‘Where do I belong?’ I have asked myself this question many times, looking up words like ‘Hiraeth’ and ‘Fernweh’, because we’re neither wolf nor man cub. We don’t quite belong to the city we live in and you know you won’t survive in the jungle without Netflix.
How many of us have had no answer when we are asked, ‘When will you settle down?’
Perhaps Rudyard Kipling’s
Jungle Book is one such story that just won’t settle down. It comes at you as a childhood favourite where you sing along the Dawn Patrol of the elephants when they march across the jungle and you smile at the little one telling Mowgli, ‘Don’t talk. It’s against the regulations!’ Or with the happy Baloo who sings of ‘Bare necessities’.
We grew up on this version of
Jungle Book, but a hateful know-it-all uncle - who could be described as straight out of Monsoon Wedding - told us he had seen 1942 version of Jungle Book with Sabu (Sabu Dastagir) and that there was a movie called Elephant Boy (1937) as well.
We hated him so we never really cared for those two movies. But when he died of some mysterious illness we kids celebrated by watching
Jungle Book with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. We hated to see Mowgli kissing a girl in the film. I will admit that I have seen the live action Sri Lanka/US film called Jungle Book 2: Mowgli and Baloo.
This was the first time I actually hated mankind. In this version, Mowgli has a maternal uncle, Buldeo, who will give up Mowgli to Shere Khan because he wants Mowgli’s inheritance. There’s a hunter called Jackson who will stop at nothing. And the Bandar Log (monkey people) are as treacherous as they come. I must confess that I had wished Bagheera had not saved man-cub in the first place.
Disney decided to own
The Jungle Book a couple of years ago and Scarlett Johansson seduced us with ‘Trust In Me, Just In Me’ one more time. Jon Favreau’s real life Shere Khan scared the bejeebers out of a very grown-up me, and the child unit just enjoyed the stampede and everything else.
So why make Mowgli again? Because Christian Bale and Benedict Cumberbatch could lend their voices? That India had suddenly become the market that Netflix and Warner Brothers long to carve a slice of? That Abhishek Bachchan and Anil Kapoor as Bagheera and Baloo would suitably drown out Jackie Shroff’s Sher Khan? Would the Dhak-Dhak girl, Madhuri Dixit sound maternal enough as Nisha the wolf mama? Then comes the million dollar question: Will Kaa with a ‘Poo’ pout in the film be perfect for Kareena Kapoor?
How many people you know would choose Jackie Shroff over Benedict Cumberbatch’s Shere Khan? It would be interesting to know if going Hindi is a gamble Netflix will win. Because Madhuri Dixit’s Nisha (wolf mama) saying, ‘
Main hamesha tumhari maa rahoongi’ for the original, ‘I will always be your mother’ seems rather an unnatural thing to hear.
Jungle Book releases on December 7, and I reacted like most people: Is Netflix out of new ideas? The Jungle Book worked fine. Why reinvent the wheel?
Visually, the new
Jungle Book comes off second best to the Jon Favreau film. Kaa really has a Kareena Kapoor pout and that is extremely disconcerting. I still prefer the expression of the original animated Mowgli hypnotised by Kaa. This Mowgli is suitably undernourished but does not endear himself to me.
Poor Freida Pinto looks at him lovingly only when his face is covered by holi colours. I missed the little village girl who seduces Mowgli just by turning around and glancing at Mowgli sideways.
But the film stops your mind from wandering when Kaa hisses an explanation, ‘The jungle places hope in the hands of a creature never before seen in these parts,‘ you are hooked. You wonder too why the giant elephant (tusks look more like a mammoth and why is the jungle growing out of him?) saves the man-cub. But you like how Bagheera forces Mowgli to go back to the man village is worth every penny you pay to Netflix.
You have heard the dialog before, but Andy Serkis makes you feel that this time you are Mowgli, looking at the man village twinkling with lights when Bagheera says, ‘I have seen you watching the man village…’ And Mowgli answers, ‘Why would I go there?’
You have wanted to settle down, belong to a village, where there are lights, and you watch from the darkness, from afar, wanting to belong but not finding any reason. You know you will be imprisoned there, and you like your friends, who are wolves, and a bear and a dog called Bhoot, who adopted you and said, ‘As long as I am the leader of the pack, Mancub stays with the pack.’
In real life, you have made friends of strangers, you live a very different life on Twitter and FaceBook and record it on Instagram. They are your family. Not those who want you to settle down.
But the best part of the film comes when a Hyena shows you the truth behind why we really need another Jungle Book movie. The hyena confesses to Mowgli, ‘I dream of being Tiger, but always wake up hyena.’
I wish the film had ended there. This is as much adulting as one can take. The rest is predictable, as the Italians say, ‘Cavoli Riscaldati’ reheated cabbage.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.