The box office numbers are in; on its opening weekend The Jungle Book took over the box office by storm bringing in a whopping $103.5 million in ticket sales. It’s a spectacular film; one I’m certain is going to make cinematic history. While I was in Los Angeles I had the opportunity to sit down with Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley, who voices “Bagheera”, the panther who finds Mowgli as a baby. Kingsley has this quiet confidence about him that is eloquent and gentle. He is very thoughtful when he speaks, taking time to pause in between his sentences to ensure he has the perfect words to say. One of the defining things that stood out to me about Kingsley was how well he understood his craft. I mean he should understand it since he’s won an Academy Award.
At the time of this interview Kinglsey had not seen the film in its entirety, however, he told us,
I think it’s very close to what Rudyard Kipling envisioned, which was an enormous leap in his imagination…a child literally living with and talking with animals. And I think from what I’ve seen that’s what you experience on the screen here.
[Tweet “Kingsley said, “I think it’s very close to what Rudyard Kipling envisioned…” #JungleBookEvent”]
Kingsley started his career on the stage and you can tell because his commanding voice as Bagheera definitely has a military feel to it. His voice is purposeful and has a lot of depth to it. One of my friends from India, Aarabi, had a very specific question for Kingsley that she wanted me to ask. She asked,
Because of the way Kipling wrote the book (as far as I can remember from having deconstructed it as part of colonial literature on India) the characters and their speech was very much ‘Indian’. Did Mr. Kingsley, in this contemporary production have to navigate the ‘Indian-ness’ or did they just treat it as a childhood classic? And extra love to Ben Kingsley because well… he is a bit of a demi god!
That statement, about him being a demi-god made Kingsley blush, he thoughtfully answered,
When I first discussed it with Jon Favereau I recognized that Bagheera was military. [The time during which Kipling wrote The Jungle Book in post-colonial times]…there were British and Indian officers serving in the Indian Army. So I offered an Indian accent as Bagheera, to play him as an Indian [Army] colonel or general and [Jon] felt that it didn’t fit the universality of the appeal of the story. That it might corner it [the film] and make it a province of one particular period of history, culture, hierarchy. I think [Jon] made a very good choice in making it more universal and more accessible.
Kingsley then went on to say that there’s still a remnant of that Indian colonel in his performance that can be seen in Bagheera’s tough but very affectionate love for Mowgli. He did want for me to tell Aarabi, however, that he did embark on an Indian accent when he first began reading for the part.
When asked if Kingsley saw Bagheera more as a father figure to Mowgli than the alpha wolf Aklea in the movie, Kingsley told us that no, he did not see Bagheera as a father figure at all.
I didn’t see him as a father figure at all. I did see him in military terms that it was as if I was training a young cadet in how to survive in particular circumstances. And I liked Jon’s version of this which is close to Kipling’s, which [was to create] a book and a story that prepares a young person for life. And you have to prepare young people for life by lovingly introducing them to the fact that there is light and shade, that both exist side-by-side in life, and that if you, dilute, distort, sugar coat, sentimentalize everything in the hope that you’re gonna keep a child’s attention, you won’t. You get the child’s attention; he immediately [wants you to read the dark parts.] Whenever I read stories to my children, they would always ask me to read the scary bits over and over again, even if I do, the cover would come. [Kingsley motioned as if he were pulling a bed sheet over his head.] [My children] would love it, because they were hearing it in a safe place. That’s the ingredient. If they are introduced to that dark side of life in a really safe environment by their parents, then it’s fun.
As far as how his scenes as Bagheera were filmed Kingsley told us that he did have two days with Neel Sethi where the two were able to form a relationship and figure out the dynamics of their characters together. That really helped both of them when they were geographically apart during filming.
[Tweet “Kingsley and @TheNeelSethi spent 2 days getting to know each other during filming. #JungleBookEvent”]
When I heard that Kingsley was co-starring in the film I realized the potential this film had. Now that I’ve seen the film twice (and would see it again in a heartbeat with my children) I am even more convinced that The Jungle Book will go down in history as a great Disney classic.
The Jungle Book opens in 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D everywhere on April 15th.
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Bert Anderson is a blogger and social media manager mom of three living outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She’s the author behind the blog First Time Mom, where she honestly chronicles the peaks and valleys of parenting. Even though she has more than one child, Bert maintains that whether you have one child or 19, there’s a first time for everything. She’s a lover of coffee, conversations, pop culture, healthy living and fitness.