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The pain, effort and talent behind 'The Jungle Book'

Updated on July 21, 2016

The Story Behind

Joseph Rudyard is regarded as a major innovator in the art of narrating short stories. And evidently, a wide range of children's classics and literature have been in his contribution. He was a versatile writer both in prose as well as in poem in the early 20th century and late 19th century in United Kingdom. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, thus becoming the first English writer to win it.

At the time of 1st World War, Kipling wrote poems and pamphlets which supported UK's war to restore Belgium. He was asked to write the propaganda which he cheerfully accepted. The poems he wrote at this time mainly contained statements glorifying war and heroism of British and that the war unleashed by Germany was too brutal. He saw war as a crusade for civilisation against barbarism. Kipling's attitude of Imperialism resulted in contrasting views about him and thus, earned a bad reputation.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling

The inscription reads...

'This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father. Tisbury, May 94.'

The Pain Inside...


In 1894, Joseph Rudyard Kipling had written the story named Jungle Book (And that we all know already!). Jungle Book had been one of the most loved children's book. But, no one knew that it was actually written for his baby daughter Josephine in 1894, when she was only one year old! At the age of five she had died of pneumonia. After that a rare proof edition was discovered in 2010, it was known that the book was dedicated to a baby whose life was cut short!

The inscription written by the author reads:

'This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father. Tisbury, May 94.' It was unsigned. But, experts demand it as the author's own handwriting. The book was discovered at The National Trust's Wimpole Hall, in Cambridgeshire, where researchers were cataloguing all the 7000 books in the library! It was found along with the collection of books written for his second daughter Elsie, who lived in Wimpole Hall from 1938 to 1976. It is thought that Elsie brought the book to her collection when they moved from Kipling's family home Bateman's, when it was given to National Trust in 1930.

The first edition with the author's own handwriting.
The first edition with the author's own handwriting.

The First Edition

Fiona Hall, the curator says:

'This inscription is very touching, especially when you consider that Kipling lost not only Josephine, but also his youngest child, John who died in the great war. As Kipling's only remaining child, Elsie might have really treasured the book. It is very exciting that it is one of the first proof books to be returned to the author and he has written in it. In terms of Kipling, nothing like this has ever been found and so this book is pretty special.'

The book with blue cover embossed with three gold elephants was found, which had no illustrations in the inside pages. The illustration of elephants were made by Kipling's father, Lockwood Kipling , who was an illustrator. It is now kept in a glass display for the visitors to see.

Kipling had never mentioned about his greatest losess, Josephine and John in his autobiography. He had been life-long guilty of pulling strings to get his short-sighted son, John into the army after his death in the war. His body was never being found.

The Untiring Effort

Jon Favreau had seen the animated series of Jungle Book made by Disney in his chilhood. After half a century, when it was to be remade he felt it both as a blessing and a challenge as well! It was a huge task to show those animated figures as real and alive characters. That's what he meant when he said, "You are serving many masters when you make a film like this. You are trying to honor the memory, the emotional memory of people who grew up with this stuff. But you are also trying to make a movie that appeals to the full audience."

The new crew didn't have the right to create anything new, but also not to diminish anything which was preserved in the memory of the people who had been children when they saw the Jungle Book at first. That's what made Favreau think when Disney asked him to reimagine the cartoon. He was not sure how to improve or expand the original, showing justice to the real story.

Jon Favreau, the director of The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau, the director of The Jungle Book

The computerised memory!


Disney studios chairman Alan Horn encouraged the director to rethinnk the cartoon, with an imagery that had relivened films like 'Avatar' and 'Life of Pi'. The result is a film with only one live character! Each set was built for just one shot. If the kid had to walk ten feet, they had to make a ten feet of jungle. Favreau showed the industry crowd Jungle Book's pre-production clips of animated birds, rippling water and other natural elements. Though with technology, they recreated the realistic world, Favreau realised that they needed something more than a real world. So, they added mythical elements- outsized creatures to create a sense of awe. The team did as much as to make us see the soul of the actor. But, at the same time they wanted the audience to be within the boundary of the story.

The Great Film

The visually impressive movie has excellent voice actors like;

Bill Murray as Baloo the bear,

Ben Kinsley as Begheera the panther,

Scarlett Johanssen as Kaa the python,

Idris Elba as Sher khan the tiger and

Lupita Nyong'o as Raksha.

But, the only actor to appear for real(physically) is a twelve year old boy-Neel Sethi! Neel Sethi is an Indian-American who is growng up on Manhattan's Upper East side. He had heared about the audition of Jungle Book through a dance teacher who insisted him to go. An audition tape of him playing fake tennis and baseball, acting against imaginary co-stars captured Favreau's attention. And for a story taking place in India which was written in English obviously had to be done by an Indian-American who can tie the both ends! He does the role of 'man-cub' being raised by the animals of the jungle. His only work before Jungle Book was a short film named Diwali. But, to appear alone in a whole movie, shot in a blue-screen soundstage was a challenging idea even for adult actors! Though technology, Jon Favreau and the whole team was behind, 'Mowgli' has to be real, lively than the alive! He did his part well.

Ben Kinsley, Neel, Lupita and Favreau
Ben Kinsley, Neel, Lupita and Favreau

'Casting is the most important element of any film and finding the right kid to play Mowgli was imperative. Neel has tremendous talent and charisma. There's a lot riding on his little shoulders and I'm confident that he can handle it.'


Jon Favreau with Neel Sethi
Jon Favreau with Neel Sethi

The young Talent- Neel Sethi!

Neel Sethi was chosen from among 2000 of the kids auditioned in US,UK, New Zealand and Canada. Jon Favreau had a great belief in Sethi's abilities. He once said that,

"Casting is the most important element of any film and finding the right kid to play Mowgli was imperative. Neel has tremendous talent and charisma. There's a lot riding on his little shoulders and I'm confident that he can handle it.'

Ben Kinsley spent two days with Neel voicing the paternal panther Begheera. He got impressed such that he said,

" I can tell you he is the star. He's got a huge soul. He's been here before. I don't think its his first visit on this planet."

Neel grew up his perfectly coiffed hair to go wild and so, there wasn't any need of wig. Every day he would dirt up his hair, wear the baggy shorts, and become the same jungle-boy with the confidence which reflected in his every move. He was able to hold the screen and interesting to be watched. Favreau even has an opinion that Neel looked like he walked out of 1967 cartoon!

Neel Sethi, the charm!!
Neel Sethi, the charm!!

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