There is much to be said about Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. It has an ever-renewable quality to it and , its timelessness is repeatedly celebrated on celluloid .
One more version , no matter how spectacular seems like an exercise in redundancy, if not futility. The new Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau(whose last film Chef is being re-cooked into Hindi, God save the the kitchen) seems like something we would like to see even if we’ve seen it scores of times before.
The CGs and FXs are to die for. Unlike the post-card pretty innocuous images of a benign jungle in some of the early adaptations this version is ferociously feral. Little Mowgli has friends , yes. Like Balloo and Bagheera to protect him from the wrath of the king tiger Sher Khan. But he is in constant danger from the jungle’s predatory environment.
The last time the furiously fecund foliage seemed so sinister was in Ram Gopal Varma’s Jungle. In Favreau’s feral film there are roars of animals as they hurl menacingly towards Mowgli. And what does he do? He runs for his life!
Way back in 1967 when producer Walt Disney did an animation version of The Jungle Book he sacked the original writers when the intent of the content was found to be too dark and ominous. I wonder what wispy Walt would say to the way this new version of The Jungle Book, with creatures in the jungle hound the little boy with sinister celerity?
The voices in the English version of the trailer own every character so effortelessly that one thought the dubbed version would be a travesty .
But no. The big Bollywood voices lending an assured empathy to the animal characters are absolutely delightful , be it Nana Patekar as the intimidating Sher Khan , and Om Puri and Irrfan Khan as Mowgli’s protectors Ballo and Bagheera. There is Priyanka Chopra’s seductive throat coiling its chords around the words of the snake Kaa.
“Iss jungle mein tum kya kar rahe ho?” she whispers huskily to Mowgli. Reminded me of what a director who has worked with her recently commented, “PC can’t help being sexy. Even if she is required to grieve as a widow on screen she will be seductive widow.”
Also in terrific vocal shape is Jasleen Singh who speaks for Mowgli. The English version has the original young actor Neel Seth speaking for Mowgli. There is an interesting history of nostalgia involved in a feminine voice for a boy child actor. In the past ,Hindi movies had Lata Mangeshkar sing for male child actors like Mahesh Kothare in Raja Aur Runkand Master Bobby in Mastana .