ONE TOO MANY MOWGLIS
Andy Serkis’s live-action take on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is disjointed and turgid
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.