It was a rare sight to see two centres of filmmaking — Hollywood and Bollywood — share the same stage to talk about Netflix’s “Mowgli”, Andy Serkis’ take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic story about a man cub raised by wolves in the jungles of India.
The film’s Indian voice cast — Abhishek Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor Khan — and their Hollywood counterparts — writer-director Serkis, Batman star Christian Bale, child actor Rohan Chand and Freida Pinto — introduced the film’s Hindi trailer here on Sunday at a press conference ahead of its world premiere.
It was interesting to see talents from two industries mingle over a story, written by a British writer, who was born in colonial India. The tale itself follows a boy caught up between two different worlds — mankind and animal kind.
Serkis, whose tone is darker than the earlier child-friendly versions of the story, said it was important for him to root it in India and bring the film here.
“I am thrilled that we are opening the film here. The film has come to the root source, to tell this story, an interpretation that has never been in a country that inspired the story. In this age, you can’t make a movie on this subject and not ground it in Indian culture,” Serkis said.
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The director said his version is about the identity crisis of Mowgli and how he comes to terms with it.
“The different thing that separates this version from earlier ones is that it is really searching for the heart of Mowgli. In many other adaptations, it seems like Mowgli is on the side while other animals take a star turn. We have a very Mowgli-centric story. It is about the complex, psychological, emotional journey of self discovery. It is about what it is to be torn between two worlds, that’s the heart of
it. Tonally, it is closer to the book,” he said.
“Other adaptations have not gone that far to extract that visceral sense of what it is to be caught between or not have a real sense of belonging,” he said.
Bale, who has voiced Bagheera, an elder brother-mentor to Mowgli, said it was important to present the film in India.
The actor said he found lots of similarities between the three central characters – Mowgli, Bagheera and film’s antagonist Shere Khan but Bagheera, despite being caged by humans, does not hate the man cub and forms an emotional bond with him. He is also the only character, who understands how Mowgli is torn about his identity.
“Like Mowgli, Bagheera had to work out who he was. He has taken the damage and turned it into love and positivity whereas Shere Khan has taken it and turned it into bitterness and hatred,” Bale said.
Serkis is ahead of the pack when it comes to performance capture and Bale said he would often turn to his director to understand the nuances of the technology.
Also read: Can’t tell the story of ‘Mowgli’ without acknowledging its Indian roots, says director Andy Serkis
“He (Serkis) has always been a phenomenal actor. He has really mastered this whole performance capture thing… He would guide me on that,” Bale said.
It was also a reunion of sorts for “Slumdog Millionaire” stars Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto. Kapoor voices Baloo in the Hindi version while Freida has dubbed for both the versions of her character. She plays Messua, the human adoptive mother of Mowgli in the film.
“The most beautiful part about ‘Mowgli’ is that it is an ode to India. I remember Andy telling me before I left for South Africa that he wanted me to do my parts in Hindi,” Freida said, adding that she loved the fact that she got to enjoy a version of Holi festival and sing a beautiful Hindi lullaby, written and composed by Indian-American musician Nitin Sawhney.
“All of these beautiful things I associate with India came to life in that movie,” Freida, who first worked with Serkis on “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, said.
Abhishek, who has voiced Bagheera in the Hindi version, said it was challenging to fit Hindi into English lines as both languages are different in tone and to Indianise it was difficult.
He credited Bale’s brilliant performance for helping him understand the tone of the character.
Kapoor, who dubbed the beloved bear, Baloo, in the Hindi version, said it was the voice of Serkis that guided him in the moments of doubt.
“Whenever I would get stuck, I would listen to Andy’s voice over and over again, and try to figure out what emotion he was going for, what he was thinking,” Anil said.
Madhuri said she had a blast while doing voice work for Mowgli’s wolf mother, Nisha, a role originally performed by British actor Naomie Harris.
She described the character as “ferocious” and said Nisha is really protective of the man cub who she adopts as her own despite the difference.
Sounding wise beyond his years, Rohan Chand, who portrays Mowgli, said
the character has always been his hero but he really worked hard, physically, to portray the character.
“Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle” will stream on Netflix from December 7.