Two years after Disney’s live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 novel The Jungle Book comes another version of the classic tale. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle has been directed by Andy Serkis, the British actor, filmmaker and acclaimed performance capture artist whose credits include The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003) and the Planet of the Apes reboot series (2011–17). Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle will be streamed on Netflix on December 7, and was premiered in Mumbai on Sunday.
Serkis was in Mumbai along with Rohan Chand, who plays the feral boy raised by wolves, and Christian Bale, who has provided the voice and performance capture performance for Mowgli’s companion, the black panther Bagheera. The cast includes Serkis as Baloo the bear, Cate Blanchett as the rock python Kaa, Freida Pinto as Messua, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the tiger Shere Khan, who wants to kill Mowgli. The film has also been dubbed in Hindi, with a voice cast that includes Abhishek Bachchan as Bagheera, Kareena Kapoor as Kaa, Anil Kapoor as Baloo, Madhuri Dixit as Nisha and Jackie Shroff as Shere Khan
Serkis has been working on Mowgli since 2013, but was beaten to it by Jon Favreau’s Disney adaptation. Serkis promises a grittier and more expanded version of the story, one that will not only focus on Mowgli’s adventures in the jungle but also his attempts to return to human habitation. “The film is much more of an adventure and the characters are all emotionally truthful,” Serkis told Scroll.in during his Mumbai visit.
‘The Jungle Book’ has been adapted several times for the screen. Why did you feel that Rudyard Kipling’s novel merited a new version?
We very much wanted to tell a version of the story that was tonally closer to the book. I don’t think many people in the West are familiar with the book at all, and their only association with The Jungle Book is the 1967 Disney animation to start with. This story is much more complex and darker. It is much more of an adventure and the characters are all emotionally truthful.
How faithful is your film to the book?
The complexity of Mowgli as a character and the toughness of Baloo were important. In the book, Baloo is a much tougher character. There are many quotes that we took from the book, which inspired the scenes, the images and the shots. It is historically authentic to the time at which the book was written. Those are the things that influenced us.
While you were working on your film, Disney produced Jon Favreau’s adaption, which was a blockbuster across the world, including in India. Did that deter you?
When I started working on this film, there wasn’t the Disney version. We started work on this way before the Disney one came about. But also, they are complementary films and they work in different ways and are completely different animals, so to speak. So I am not worried at all because people are used to seeing differently adapted takes of classic stories.
Have you been to India before? If not, how did you go about imagining the locations?
This is my first time visiting India. We did a lot of research, and we wanted to make it feel historically authentic and made sure that it had a very strong feeling of India, though we did not actually shoot here purely for budgetary reasons.
But we did shoot in the south of Durban in South Africa, where there is the biggest population of Indian people outside of India. So we populated the village with local Indians.
What did you look for in your cast?
It was all about the animal personality of that person and what kind of animal spirit that person possessed. We had very clear ideas about who we would cast for those characters, and we were very fortunate that they could all come and do it.
How did your own experience with performance capture, including for Gollum in ‘The Lord of The Rings’, Snoke in ‘Star Wars’, and Caesar in ‘The Planet of the Apes’, help with ‘Mowgli’?
Yes, it absolutely helped me on the technical side and the understanding of it. Most of the characters that I have played are human-like characters in terms of their physiognomy and facial structure. But this is turning an actor’s face into a panther or a snake or a wolf. They are completely different facial structures. So it was really about understanding how you can take that underlying performance and translate it.
You have often spoken about wanting to make the talking animals look real and express emotions.
If you compare our film to most of the other versions of The Jungle Book, ours deals a lot with close-ups. Many of our shots of the animals are really close-ups, so you can see what they are thinking and feeling all the time. They are not just at a distance and part of a bigger spectacle.
Our version of the story is a drama, and so to really have that connection and emotive nature was fundamental to make sure that the performance capture process worked.
Which is your favourite character from ‘The Jungle Book’?
It goes without saying that it is Mowgli. Because he is one of the richest characters and has the most complex journey. But I think Bagheera too, because of his relationship with Mowgli. And the way in which Christian Bale plays Bagheera is extraordinary.