Mowgli: Christian Bale, Andy Serkis, Abhishek Bachchan, Anil Kapoor discuss their characters ahead of film's premiere
Frieda Pinto, who kind of bridges the gap between Netflix's Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle and its roots, said the Netflix film is an ode to India.
The world premiere of Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle on Sunday in India marked the film as one of the first big budget Hollywood motion pictures to have had a red carpet opening in the country.
Speaking to the press ahead of the premiere, director Andy Serkis said of his film that Mowgli was a complex psychological journey of a boy caught between two changing worlds, yearning for a sense of belonging. He reiterated that the slightly darker retelling was steeped in the internal conflict of this boy who grew up among wolves, an idea central to Serkis’ adaptation that according to him was instrumental taking the film closer to Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 work.
For his part, Rohan Chand, who plays the eponymous protagonist, said that a lot of research went into prepping for the role. Other than fierce Youtube-ing, Chand added that he actually camped out with wolves in order to observe their movements and how they interacted with each other.
Netflix has roped in Bollywood actors Abhishek Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit Nene, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Kareena Kapoor Khan for the Hindi version of Serkis’ film.
Bachchan, who has voiced Bagheera, the black panther who is Mowgli’s friend, mentor and his staunch protector (originally voiced by Christian Bale), said about The Jungle Book, “The story that Rudyard Kipling has written can appeal to all age groups through time.”
Enunciating the relevance of Mowgli to this day, Bachchan noted that as children, our favourite character would inevitably be the comical Baloo — voiced by Serkis and dubbed in Hindi by Anil Kapoor, in this adaptation.
But as we grow older, he said we look for a character that represents responsibilities and values, and hence, are drawn to Bagheera. The story keeps getting retold because there is a takeaway for each and every age group.
Madhuri, who has lent her voice to Nisha, said that the story becomes especially relevant in a world where people are different and acceptance is crucial. Nisha accepts this man cub as her own, loves him as her own boy in spite of knowing that he is different from their clan, a quality that has become increasingly significant today.
About portraying Bagheera, the utterly versatile Bale opined that it was interesting to note the similarities between him and Mowgli, and him and Shere Khan (voiced by Jacky Shroff in Hindi and Benedict Cumberbatch in English).
Bagheera’s voice, he said, had been described in the book like ‘dripping honey from a tree.’ “He is cunning, bold, reckless and wounded.”
For the role, Bale points out, he had to modulate his voice to at times make it sound noble, adopt a soothing tone when Mowgli needed it, be avuncular and sometimes even threatening to convey the idea that nobody would cross Bageera’s path.
Bachchan noted that dubbing Bale’s dialogues was both a challenging as well as a liberating affair. The challenge lay in understanding the way Serkis had designed the character and Bale’s portrayal of it, and then attempt to Indian-ise that. To linguistically fit Hindi into the meter and rhythm of English dialogues was also difficult, he added.
Anil pointed out that it was Serkis' layered characterisation, coupled with Kipling's Baloo itself, that prompted him to take up the part. He added that usually the director would be present for the dubbing but this time, he had Serkis' voice to guide him.
“Whenever I would get stuck, I would listen to Andy’s voice (as Baloo) over and over again, and try to figure out what emotion he was going for, what he was thinking,” Anil said.
But it was liberating to enter completely into the character, Bachchan said. “In our films, there is a huge element of your personality you bring to your character which is probably not prevalent in the West,” he added.
Freida Pinto, who plays Messua, Mowgli’s adoptive human mother in the film, recalled the Doordarshan rendition of the classic and said that she had never come across any other adaptation which portrayed the human life in a similar manner. So for the actress, shooting in South Africa and working with other actors speaking in Hindi, singing lullabies and doing all the beautiful things she associated with India was an altogether wonderful experience. “The beautiful part about this Mowgli adaptation is that what Andy does is an ode to India,” she said.
While Bale and Serkis essay Bagheera and Baloo respectively, Mowgli also stars Naomie Harris as Nisha, Peter Mullan as Akela, Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Bhoot and Cumberbatch as Shere Khan. Kareena Kapoor Khan essays the role of the python Kaa in the Hindi version.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle will be available on Netflix from 7 December.
Watch the trailer here.
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