The Lion King Hindi: Nepotism aside, Aryan Khan's voice fits the bill for Simba more than SRK's does for Mufasa
In the Hindi version of The Lion King, Mufasa often says ‘humara desh’ for some reason, making him sound less like Mufasa and more like Modi ji.
Shah Rukh Khan vs James Earl Jones was not a comparison I ever thought I would have to make. Yet, here we are.
But first, a confession: I’m a bit of a photorealism snob. Even though some of the great movies of our time are animated, I find an inherent joy in frames that look like they are constructed in the real world. Hence, despite being an ardent, always-cries-when-Mufasa-dies fan of The Lion King, I was convinced that a photorealistic (*not* live-action) version of the film would hit me in the gut, particularly after director Jon Favreau showed what is possible with The Jungle Book.
The remake does have some stunning visuals, making it worth a trip to the movies, even if it is unlikely to do for you what the 1994 film did. Yes, it just did not quite go as I expected. While the photorealism adds to the story, the sheer absence of hand-drawn human expressions takes away even more. So you see, I did not cry when Mufasa dies. (Certainly not in the English version.)
Surprisingly enough, it was in the Hindi version that I found myself slightly more involved emotionally. It was the first time that I was watching the Hindi version of a Hollywood studio film on the big screen, so the comforting voice of our very own superstar was a good way to make a newbie feel at home, even though — and I cannot state this enough — Shah Rukh Khan is the weakest link in the Hindi voice cast of the film. Because once James Earl Jones speaks dialogue and you hear it, anyone else trying to fill those shoes should just go home barefoot instead. (ILU, SRK)
However, what SRK lacks in voice, he and young Aryan Khan together make up for with sheer feel. Keeping any debate about nepotism away for a bit, the extra dynamic of a superstar dad, and his young star-son voicing father and son in perhaps one of the great coming-of-age father-son tales in pop culture gives it a value that the Donald Glover-James Earl Jones combo just cannot bring to the table (or the dubbing studio.) In particular, the one scene where Khans Sr and Jr share dialogue together, when an adult Simba hears his dead father’s voice from the sky, telling him to remember who he is — that one is a proper moment for the SRK lovers among us.
Make no mistake: the Hindi version has its share of problems, primarily some awkward translation often leading to stilted dialogue, making it sound like an unfamiliar, unspoken kind of Hindi. (If you are going to come at me with ‘but it’s not like lions speak anyway’, then you should avoid *all* versions of the film.)
So ‘the Pride Lands’ becomes ‘Gaurav Bhoomi’, which Mufasa often refers to as ‘humara desh’ for some reason, making him sound less like Mufasa and more like (Narendra) Modi ji. And when Hindi speakers have a character named ‘Nala’ in their midst, you wonder what the poor little lioness did to deserve the verbal gutter.
Still, most of the Hindi voice cast does an admirable job given the tough, high-pressure material at hand. Ashish Vidyarthi voices a terrific Scar, prompting me to wonder why Hindi filmmakers do not use this fine actor well enough, relegating him to mostly hammy roles.
By far, the pick of the voice cast are Asrani as Zazu — after the jailor from Sholay, I cannot think of another character that suits the veteran actor’s personality so well; and the Mumbai gully-slang-speaking ‘bantais’ Timon and Pumba, voiced by Shreyas Talpade and Sanjay Mishra respectively.
I was most worried about the Hindi counterparts of these two iconic characters, but they are almost as much fun as Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are in the English version. They bring such spunk and energy to proceedings once they make their entry. Another interesting little touch is the Hindi heartland accent given to the hyenas (or ‘lakkadbaghe’, as it were.)
Finally, a word or two about Aryan Khan. This is not the first time he has dubbed in Hindi for an animated Hollywood film. Back in 2004, a seven-year-old Aryan joined daddy SRK in the Hindi voice cast for The Incredibles. Here, as a young adult, he does a far better job than a skeptic (ie me) would have expected. His boyish, millennial twang, in fact, suits the 2019 Simba much better than the decade-and-a-half older Donald Glover does. Because remember, Simba is a young adult at the end of the day. Young Aryan can express with his voice, and that is a good sign.
As far as the nepotism angle goes, it is a valid question that deserves its own space, but this is not that space. For why bother with that when all we really want is for Mufasa’s son to ascend to the throne?
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