THE JUNGLE BOOK : Big on tribute to India, Short on emotion

Directed and co-produced by Jon Favreau, Walt Disney’s live action cum CGI film, The Jungle Book is breaking records worldwide and also in the Indian domestic market. In fact, it is all set to become the highest grosser of 2016 in the Indian market.

The box office numbers (150 crores INR so far) are fascinating even for a big budget Bollywood movie – Shahrukh Khan’s Fan faltered in front of Sher Khan’s Jungle book! However it’s no coincidence that The Jungle Book did it. The movie has a strong Indian connect and pays tribute to ‘Indian-ness’ in more ways than one; Nine to be precise. Here’s why:

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  1. With names like Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Raksha, Sher Khan, Akela and King Louie, The Jungle Book, has Indian names all across the cast.
  2. Rudyard Kipling’ ensemble of names, way back in 1894, is a straight on tribute to India’s centuries old secular slogan ‘Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaai, aapas me hai bhai bhai’ (translate – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, live as brothers, in this land).
  3. In the movie, the animals of the jungle bestow maximum respect to the elephant, almost god like status. Their method of bowing in front of the elephant is similar to how Hindus and Muslims bow, and you can’t miss thinking about the Elephant god, Ganesha, during these scenes.
  4. That Baloo, the bear, likes honey is an expected fact. But when Mowgli applies honey on his wounds, that’s straight out of ancient India, where honey was extensively used an antiseptic. I often find non Indians laugh or criticize Indian food ingredients having too much masala. Little do they know that each of the ingredients (you name it turmeric, cinnamon, cumin seeds etc) have medicinal properties, and are included in diet for scientific reasons.
  5. The brilliant chase scene where monkeys kidnap Mowgli and take him to the monkey temple will take your mind to monkey temples all across India. Visit any prime tourist city and your itinerary will have a temple spot, infiltrated with monkeys! Normally those temples will have at least one Lord Hanuman statue.
  6. The head of the monkeys, King Louie’s entry, is excellent. But even more fascinating is the Royal Bengal tiger, Sher Khan’s entry. The style very similar to what you see in Bollywood movies. Grand and sensational. On both occasions, I was reminded of Gabbar Singh’s (a famous Bollywood villain’s) entry, back in mid 1970s.
  7. The concept of ‘Peace Rock’ where all animals can drink water together during peak summer and fast drying lands, suppressing their carnal instincts, is very much the secular India fabric. In no other land would you find so many people of differing languages, communities, castes, religious following and diet gather in any square in times of need.
  8. Mowgli is seen wearing an Indian dhoti as a toddler, which remains with him, to be folded into shorts like apparel, as he keeps growing.
  9. It’s not without reason that the best CGI graphic movies from Hollywood have an Indian connection. Life of Pi was story of an Indian immigrant and Avatar, the word, in Hindi means re-incarnation.

The mention of Avatar is also to underline while Avatar transports you to the fantasy Pandora land, it captures the audience emotions down the way. As the movie builds you feel more and more for the protagonists and want them to succeed. The same can’t be said of The Jungle book. Aside the fun element, marvelling at the graphics and Justin Marks’ outstanding screenplay, the movie doesn’t tug your heart at any stage. You are never found rooting for the Mowgli’s escape or freedom or stay.

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The emotion it does evoke is of human created forest fires, how it’s ruining the environment and putting imbalance in the eco system. I live at Singapore and annually, three months a year, harassed by fog, which come from forest fires lit up at Indonesia. The fog scene is the single largest threat to the Singapore air now. And if humans are struggling, God knows what the birds, animals and reptiles, all the way from Indonesia to Singapore, are going through.

Ironically the only real element used in making this movie is a human – Neel Sethi’s Mowgli. Else every other animal, tree, river, ditch, bird, rock and even leaf, everything are wonders of CGI graphics.

Yet the jungle has a poor opinion of humans. There is one dialogue in the movie which goes “They will ruin him by making a man out of him”. Very true.

Rating:  3.75/5

The Jungle book is the third animation movie I watched in a hall in 2016. The outstanding one amongst those would be Zootopia – more for the way Judy Hopps makes you part of her journey. The Jungle Book is a shade better than Kung Fu Panda 3, but could have been an epic had they increased the duration, gave more depth to each key character and story line.

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