Moving far away from the love and laughter of Disney’s “Jungle Book”, actor-director Andy Serkis says he has tried to assimilate the complexities of Rudyard Kipling’s classic, including his complicated relationship with India as an imperialist, in his new film “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle”.
Serkis said his take on Kipling’s 1894 classic “The Jungle Book”, about man cub Mowgli who is brought up by wolves in the jungles of India, is dark and closer to the original story.
Kipling was born in Mumbai in 1865. Though his first language was Hindi and India inspired most of his work, he is often called an “empire loyalist” dividing modern critics on his literary legacy.
It is this “split personality” in Kipling and his writings that Serkis has attempted to reflect in his film.
“You cannot make this film and not locate it in India and make it feel like it’s owned by India. Since arriving here, I have spoken to so many people and everyone seems to own it, it is the story they love and grew up with. So, there is a very complicated relationship between Kipling and India,” Serkis told a agency in an interview.
Serkis, who is on his first trip to India for the premiere of his movie, is best known for his mastery in performance capture technology with films such as the “Lord of the Rings” and the “Planet of the Apes” series.
In his view, Mowgli is “kind of a version of Kipling and his split personality and his struggle for discovering his own identity”.
“But we didn’t want to ignore the fact that Kipling was an imperialist or part of an imperialist culture. So that’s why I made the hunter character, a white hunter, and not a hunter from the village so that there’s a sense of the white man coming in.
“There’s a quote in the book which says When tigers kill the sacred cows, the man’s cattle, that would mean danger for the jungle because along would come many brown men with gongs and white men with guns’. So that was the impetus to make the hunter character a colonialist,” he said.
The director, 54, said Kipling was morally dubious and so is the hunter.
“I felt that that was going someway to allow us to tell the story in this day and age,” he added.
Serkis started making the film in 2014, even before Disney started the live action movie “The Jungle Book”, which was a big hit.
The director said he decided to “do it properly” rather than be in a race with the other film.
“Because the other film started being made and we were using performance capture and that was gonna take time to evolve and to do it properly, we found ourselves in a race with the other film. We decided not to go into the race and let them come out and then we take our time so that we could really properly do the work that we wanted to do on the characters,” he said.
Making the story darker than the more popular versions may alienate younger audiences but Serkis said he didn’t want to tone down the darkness inherent in the story.
“The story is complex, dark… We start reading that book at around 10 or 12 maybe. It is a very ideologically complex book. We all knew the film we were making and we were not going to shift away from that,” he said.
The director, however, believes younger children of reading age can watch the film because “there’s nothing in it that is gratuitously violent” or “not meant to be there”.
“I think it’s good for children, even young children to witness something that is visceral and intense if it’s part of the story that is well intentioned,” he added.
Serkis said he would like to see more of the country but there was no time between the premiere and media interviews, and a second trip is already on his mind.
“Unfortunately, I have seen nothing apart from going outside this hotel to the premiere which is a shame. I want to come back for sure, there is no question,” he said.
The film, which has a stellar cast with big names such as Christian Bale (Bagheera), Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan), Naomie Harris (Nisha), Cate Blanchett (Kaa), Freida Pinto and Matthew Rhys, starts streaming on Netflix from December 7.
Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff have done the voices for the Hindi version.