Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor, Anil Kapoor on how they ‘Indianised’ Netflix’s Mowgli
The Indian voice cast of Netflix’s Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle was introduced in Mumbai on Sunday. In the presence of director and actor Andy Serkis and original cast members Christian Bale, Freida Pinto and Rohan Chand - they’re in India to attend the film’s world premiere - Bollywood actors Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor spoke about the challenges of translating such a beloved story for Indian audiences.
Abhishek, who provides the Hindi voice of Bagheera in the film - performed originally through state-of-the-art motion capture by Christian Bale - said that “to fit Hindi into English lines was very challenging.” Both languages have their own, very distinct qualities, he said, and to “try and Indianise” the movie was difficult.
The Hindi trailer for the film - a darker and edgier adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which will also be dubbed into Tamil and Telugu - was premiered before the press at the same event. The trailer was received with sweeping applause, directed in particular at the villainous Shere Khan’s fleeting appearance towards the end. Neither original actor Benedict Cumberbatch nor his Hindi counterpart, Jackie Shroff, were present. Much attention was also given to Kareena’s ‘seductive’ and ‘hypnotic’ character, Kaa, originally performed by Oscar-winner, Cate Blanchett.
But like Abhishek, who acknowledged that his job was made easier by having such strong references for the character in Bale’s performance, Anil Kapoor, who voices Baloo, also thanked Serkis for his ‘layered’ characterisation. Serkis, in addition to directing the film, also plays the fan favourite bear. This more nuanced take on what has historically been such a ‘fun-loving’ character, as Abhishek pointed out, was what convinced Anil to take on the role. “Usually you’d have the director right next to you when you dub for a film, but this time I had Andy’s voice,” he said.
As evidenced by the Hindi trailer, Anil has brought a lot of his own personality to the role of Baloo. At one point, he even drops his catchphrase, “Jhakaas!”
“Whenever I would get stuck, I would listen to Andy’s voice (as Baloo) over and over again, and try to figure out what emotion he was going for, what he was thinking,” Anil continued. He also pointed out that this was the first time in a decade that he was sharing the stage with Freida Pinto, his co-star in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.
As the only Indian member of the film’s main cast, Freida said that it was important for her to represent India responsibly. Like many millions, she said that she grew up watching the Jungle Book television series on Doordarshan. “No other version focuses on the village life as much,” she noted, and said that she was glad this new film spends significant time in a village setting. Freida plays Messua, Mowgli’s adoptive human mother. She also dubbed her own Hindi lines, which she thanked Serkis for allowing her to do.
Like Freida, Abhishek also remembers watching the animated series on television as a child. A Japanese production, the show became hugely popular in India, thanks to its original theme song, written by acclaimed lyricist Gulzar.
“When you’re younger,” Abhishek said, “you identify with Baloo, but as you grow older you begin to relate with Bagheera, who represents a certain responsibility,” he said. But while translating the film for an Indian audience wasn’t easy, “We were merely trying to live up to the standard Andy and Christian had set,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by Madhuri, who voices Mowgli’s wolf mother, Nisha - a role originally performed by Naomie Harris. “Ms Harris did such a brilliant job,” Madhuri said, adding that she had a blast playing such a ‘beautiful and ferocious’ character.
Madhuri will produce an upcoming film, titled 15th August, for Netflix. The streaming giant’s announcement that they would hold the world premiere of Mowgli in India signals the importance of the market in their future plans. Only a few weeks ago, at an event in Singapore, Netflix had announced nine new originals from India. The streaming service previously brought Brad Pitt (for War Machine) and the cast of Bright (led by Will Smith) to India for promotions.
Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle will be released in all territories where Netflix is available on December 7. A limited theatrical release will be given, starting November 29, in the UK and the US.
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