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Welcome to the jungle gym

Brooding Christian Bale plays a panther in his latest movie, and it’s all for his own kids

brunch Updated: Nov 27, 2018 16:53 IST
Ananya Ghosh
Ananya Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Christian Bale,Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle,film
Christian Bale is an actor who revels in brooding, complex and challenging, especially physically challenging, characters

Christian Bale is in India to promote his new film, Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle. In fact, it is the world premiere of the Netflix film directed by Andy Serkis. For my interview, I am told that the questions would strictly have to be about the film, and that I would get 10 minutes with the Oscar-winning actor, and no selfies (so, basically I have no proof that this interview actually happened!).

“So far I have found romantic films the least interesting. I think romantic comedies are an oxymoron”

Bale welcomes me with a forced smile. He looks exhausted. It’s already been a long day for him. But he is no stranger to the Indian media and the chaos of the country. In 2011, he was in India to shoot the The Dark Knight Rises. “We shot in Jodhpur for a very brief period for The Dark Knight Rises and it was memorable,” he says. “My family came with me then, and this time my boys are also with me. We took short trips to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur before coming to Mumbai. I also took the boys to visit the stepwell that was used as an inspiration in some of the scenes in Dark Knight Rises.”

But these short trips have left him frustrated; they are inadequate, he says. “India is a country that is almost a continent in itself, a melting pot of cultures and religions. And Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book) was right in the middle of all this. In fact, he was born in Mumbai and spent the first five years of his life here. Hindi was the first language he learned and I suspect he also didn’t quite know where he belonged. He had imperialist views which certainly have not aged well but he had an equally horrible time back in England. So it is my very own interpretation, but I think the cultural conflict and identity crises of Mowgli stemmed from Kipling’s own growing up between two worlds and his struggle to fit in,” he muses.

Boys and men

Bale is an actor who revels in brooding, complex and challenging, especially physically challenging, characters. He played crazy serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000), and the emaciated Trevor Reznik in the psychological thriller The Machinist (2003), for which he lost a whopping 63 pounds, wore spandex and mask to play Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and played the portly politico, former US vice president Dick Cheney, in his recent film Vice, for which he has got an Oscar nomination this year. Now he’s playing a panther in a children’s film. A bit odd, isn’t it?

“It is a coming-of-age story about a boy trying to fit in, a fantastical tale with talking animals, a tale that addresses a very pressing problem that we need to address today – how man destroys nature,” says Bale. “I have known Andy for years and I knew I would love working on the film, but what really made me say yes to this was my wife. She said, ‘There are very few films you do that we can take our kids to. Please do this!’ She had a valid point! But thankfully, since the film has so many layers, it is not just a children’s film. It is a film even my wife and I would enjoy.”

Son rise

Naturally, I have to ask him about Bollywood, and his response is so unlike anyone else’s that I am a little stunned. “You know I am a dad now?” he says sharply. “Do you have kids?”

I nod vehemently. “Well…” he lets out a sigh. “There was a time I could watch a lot of films of all kinds and genres. But now I am usually watching what my kids are watching. And whatever they are watching changes every 20 minutes, so you can’t watch the entire thing ever! And even when I am watching something that has really got me hooked, I can only watch it to a point. After that, my son will either climb up on my shoulders or prop his head over mine and find innovative ways to block my view. So these days, I barely get to watch even my own films. There might come a time when I could get into conversations about world cinema, but currently I am in the dark, literally, with my son sitting on my head,” he scowls.

Bale’s son Joseph is three years old, and his daughter Emmaline is 12. Both kids loved Mowgli, says Bale, looking proud of himself.

Well, then, I say. Your children are growing up. So is there any chance of seeing you in a romcom someday? “Absolutely!” he nods. “But only if I find it interesting. So far I have found romantic films the least interesting. I think romantic comedies are an oxymoron. I adore comedy though. I love good stand-up comedy. But who knows! Maybe one day. But currently, NO!”

So no Bollywood films either? He bursts out laughing. “Maybe someday!”

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From HT Brunch, November 26, 2018

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First Published: Nov 26, 2018 13:25 IST