Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle starts streaming on Netflix from December 7. The film is being directed by Andy Serkis and stars Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Naomie Harris, Frieda Pinto and Rohan Chand in important roles. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the film is a retelling of the famous story with Mowgli at the center.
In a recent chat with indianexpress.com, Andy Serkis shared why he chose to adapt this story for the screen. We have already seen a few adaptations of the famous story but Serkis believes that “any great piece of literature bears reinterpretation.” Serkis said, “Everyone really thinks that The Jungle Book wasn’t even a book, they think that it is a Disney animation film from 1967. I love that film and I grew up with it.”
The actor-filmmaker shared that while the animated version is celebratory in nature, it is quite different from the tone of the book. Talking about adaptations, Serkis shared, “Sometimes I think with adaptations, Mowgli is almost lost in the story and it becomes about celebrating the antics of the animals. Whereas this is very much about Mowgli’s emotional journey, his journey of self-discovery. Caught between the world of animal and man, it’s a very rich story which we wanted to make from his point of view, to feel the complicated nature of his journey through his eyes.”
Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa and all the other animals are all portrayed through the technique of performance capture in the Netflix film. Andy Serkis elaborated on the technique and shared, “This is a hybrid between performance capture and animation. The design of the animals was crucial so you could see the facial expressions of the actors playing those roles. So the way we designed those, that was all very complicated to work out.”
Apart from directing, Serkis also plays Baloo in the film. But this is not the fun Baloo that you might remember. Here, Baloo is a tough taskmaster. He shared, “Baloo in the book is much more like Mowgli’s instructor, he has a military presence about him. He is called ‘Iron Paws’ in the book as he is quite rough with the wolf cubs. His job is to enable them to survive and he does knock them around. So I was also drawing from Rudyard Kipling’s stories and poems about soldiers and working class military. I very much drew inspiration from those characters as well as Baloo in the book.”
The Jungle Book was written in 1890s but still bears social relevance which is why makers are attracted to take their spin on it. Andy Serkis believes that the literature is “very contemporary” even though it was written a long time ago. In the film, Mowgli is trying to find his place in the world and for Serkis that is the present state of the world. “This sense of not knowing where you belong, sense of yearning for a place that you can call home and a sense of knowing yourself is really what our story is about. Now, there are so many people in the world who feel isolated and are unable to connect with a community, maybe because they have been displaced. We have a huge refugee crisis in the world. People living away from what they call home or not knowing where they belong.”
For Serkis, in a small way, that is what the movie also portrays, “This is a film with talking animals but it is there as an undercurrent. It is present in the book and it is present in our version for sure.”
Andy Serkis also connected the contents of the book to Kipling’s personal journey as he said, “It really reflects Rudyard Kipling’s personal experiences as well because he grew up in India. His first language was Hindi and then he was made to live in England in a boarding school where he missed his family, missed India terribly and he suffered because of the abuse in the house that he was brought up in. He was quite brutalised in a way.”
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle features Rohan Chand as Mowgli.