ONE TOO MANY MOWGLIS

Andy Serkis’s live-ac­tion take on Rud­yard Ki­pling’s The Jun­gle Book is dis­jointed and turgid

India Today - - LEISURE - —Suhani Singh

Ac­tor-di­rec­tor Andy Serkis’s

Mowgli started pro­duc­tion a year ear­lier than Dis­ney’s live ac­tion/CGI ver­sion of The Jun­gle

Book. But it ar­rives two years af­ter Jon Favreau’s Dis­ney pro­duc­tion hit the­atres—go­ing straight to Net­flix in English and Hindi on De­cem­ber 7.

Serkis, who also plays the bear, Baloo, in the film, isn’t too wor­ried about the de­lay or the com­par­isons to Favreau’s 2016 superhit, though Dis­ney’s

The Jun­gle Book was Hol­ly­wood’s high­est gross­ing film in In­dia un­til it was over­shad­owed by Avengers: The In­fin­ity

War. Widely recog­nised for his ge­nius in cre­at­ing mo­tion cap­ture char­ac­ters—from Gol­lum in the Lord of the Rings movies to Cae­sar in the Planet

of the Apes fran­chise—he says the added time re­sulted in a more re­al­is­tic and vis­ually stun­ning film.

“Lots of our shots of the an­i­mals are close-ups,” says Serkis, of­fer­ing a con­trast to the Dis­ney film. The re­sult is a darker, grit­tier and song-less ver­sion that touches upon is­sues of iden­tity cri­sis and the need for be­long­ing, and aims to demon­strate real an­i­mal in­stinct in­stead of mere adorable crea­tures.

A stel­lar cast of ac­tors in both the English and Hindi ver­sion— which also took time to se­cure—was an­other key to mak­ing that pos­si­ble, he says. While the English ver­sion has Chris­tian Bale as the pan­ther Bagheera, Cate Blanchett as the snake Kaa and Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as the tiger Shere Khan, the dubbed Hindi ver­sion is also packed with A-lis­ters. Ab­hishek Bachchan pro­vides the voice for Bagheera, Ka­reena Kapoor Khan voices Kaa, Anil Kapoor voices Baloo, and Mad­huri Dixit voices Nisha, Mowgli’s wolf mother.

One of the stand­outs of

Mowgli is its young lead, Ro­han Chand, who aces the phys­i­cal­ity of a child raised by wolves. It’s a de­mand­ing per­for­mance, but the nim­ble scrawny ac­tor in his first ma­jor role lives up

to the mark. Among the an­i­mals, the al­bino wolf Bhoot (Louis Ash­bourne Serkis) and the schem­ing hyena Tabaqui are win­ners— both vis­ually and vo­cally.

Nev­er­the­less, as a whole, Mowgli is also a re­minder that not all clas­sics age well and some­times could ben­e­fit from a con­tem­po­rary out­look. The peren­nial man ver­sus an­i­mal con­flict is ad­dressed fee­bly, with Matthew Rhys as the to­ken vil­lain with lit­tle to do. The bran­dish­ing of Shere Khan as the sin­gu­lar men­ac­ing threat feels dis­con­cert­ing in con­text of the re­cent killing of the ti­gress Avni in Ma­ha­rash­tra, and more so be­cause of the in­creas­ing fear cre­ated around the mi­nor­ity and out­sider in the cur­rent climate. As a re­sult, the film feels dis­jointed and turgid de­spite its short run­ning time. Only Chand’s per­for­mance and a few gen­uinely heart-pound­ing ac­tion se­quences make it worth watch­ing.

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