Childhood memories come flooding back – memories of a little boy running across the forest floor with a black panther in tow – as I sit in the dark theater and anticipate the start of the movie that extolled the timeless masterpiece of Rudyard Kipling’s genius. Despite the fact that so much of it is computer generated imagery, ‘The Jungle Book’ never once fails to enchant the viewer through its 3D wonder, capturing the minuscule details of the South Indian Jungle, the superbly crafted landscapes making you drop your jaw in awe. You are glued to the screen from the moment you see Mowgli running along the lengths of towering tree branches, playfully chased by his adopted wolf-family. As the plot unrolls, the beauty of its simplicity was striking as the defamed ( and his face, obviously mangled) tiger wishes to prevail as the ultimate King of the animal kingdom and is threatened by the ‘Man Cub’ in their midst. Be prepared to grip those armrests tighter as the movie bears you along a tide of amazement and nail-biting action , transporting you along the vast expanses of the Western Ghats (with their thundering waterfalls, roaring rivers and majestic mountains in all their glory), climaxing in an action packed battle over the blazing fire brought about by the man who encroached upon their previously peaceful kingdom.
The initial spell of a realistic jungle is somewhat broken when Bhageera (the black panther) utters his first words to rebuke Mowgli on not being able to keep up with his wolf-brothers. As an argument ensues about the boy not being able to tell a dead tree from a living one, the viewer finds herself more at ease to see that Mowgli does have friends who have educated him on the ways of the jungle, who have protected him and taken him in as one of their own. The breathtaking scenery (albeit being a little too much in place and perfect) is indeed a constant distraction as you become one with the jungle world, where animals have their laws, feuds break out and truces are called. The heartbreaks of leaving home, a mother’s words of undying love (in this case, his wolf-mother’s) and the cries of his little brother Grey are very much as real as those experienced in the human kingdom. As Mowgli begins the inevitable journey out of the jungle to join his own kind in order to appease Sher Khan, the jungle once again shows us the hurdles that one must overcome. Unheralded rains and landslides, followed by what can only be described as a horrifying stampede of wild buffaloes puts Mowgli’s life at risk yet again as the grandiose mountains calmly stand around them. But he triumphs to meet with a few other furry friends along the way- this time a sluggish, slightly conniving, yet good-hearted brown bear – Baloo. Songs and river dances follow, as picture perfect canopied forest stands above, harboring multi colored flowering plants pleasing the viewer’s eye. After stumbling upon a few more distractions in the forms of a despot Orangutan and a hypnotizing snake, Mowgli manages to reach the human establishment.
But as all happy endings go, the man does need to return home to his real family, despite the lure of the village that can give him the power of the red flower- the fire that destroys all. Mowgli returns to the jungle, but accidentally sets fire to a part of it. Renewed with a new sense of hope after the self-realization that his place is in the jungle, he faces Sher Khan in the ultimate test of his ability to be a Jungle child. His ingenuity and mastery of tools, which was once a threat to the age-old laws that ruled the Jungle are now put to use to douse the raging fire and restore trust in him. The animals come to realize that the man possesses his own unique skills and it would only be fit to accept him as a man.
The movie hit a big win in the way it encapsulated the primal emotions that all creatures that walked the earth have always possessed. The political ideology of this film finds its roots in the fact that man has always tried to disrupt the balance which existed within the untrammeled societies of the earth, appointing himself as its ruler. But it goes on to convey the message that it is however possible for man and animal to coexist without giving up on celebrating their uniqueness, without man subjugating other creatures. The straightforward and simple paradigms used in the movie takes you back to the time when all you needed to survive on the planet was food, shelter, protection and family. Kipling’s book speaks volumes about these ideas and the movie brings them to life, only more picturesque and vivid than the ones we safely stored in the depths of our memories.