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Cast members Lupita Nyong’o and Neel Sethi pose at the premiere of “The Jungle Book” at El Capitan theatre in Hollywood, California on 4 April. Photo: Reuters
Cast members Lupita Nyong’o and Neel Sethi pose at the premiere of “The Jungle Book” at El Capitan theatre in Hollywood, California on 4 April. Photo: Reuters

The Jungle Book: For once, Pahlaj Nihalani is right to an extent

I agree that the animals and the jungle look wondrously real, yet there's not much to startle or devastate any child who has watched Maleficent or Kung Fu Panda 3

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because for once, Pahlaj Nihalani, India’s answer to Leni Reifenstahl and self-appointed royal troubadour, may just be right.

It is with a stone on my heart, that I must grudgingly agree with Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Nihalani’s viewpoint on Disney’s The Jungle Book. But only to an extent. Nihalani has been in the news lately not for creating another ode to Narendra Modi, but for explaining why the children’s film, The Jungle Book, which we all grew up reading and watching, was granted a U/A certificate by CBFC. A U/A certification means that children would need to be accompanied by an adult while watching the film in theatres.

Nihalani was reported to have said, “Please don’t go by the reputation of the book. See the film and then decide on the suitability of the content for kids. The 3D effects are so scary that the animals seem to jump right at the audience. It’s not just the story that determines certification. It’s the overall presentation, the packaging and most important of all, the visual affects used to tell the story. In Jungle Book, the jungle animals jumping at the audience in 3D is startling. It’s up to parents to decide how much of these effects are suited for their children."

There is much to appreciate in Nihalani’s decision, if you’ve watched the film. I’ll first get the criticism out of the way. Nihalani’s reasoning should not have been that he thought it was “scary" or the animals jumping on and seemingly off the screen at him were startling. He should have simply said that it’s not like he’s broken from norm. The film has been given a PG (parental guidance) rating in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and the Philippines. Also, by the logic that he found the film “scary" and not “suited for children", one wonders why seeing scheming siblings, murder, fratricide and Neil Nitin Mukesh in a starring role, isn’t considered scary for children. What else could explain giving Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo a U rating? And therein lies the problem with Nihalani—his lack of consistency and seeming concern for children. Unless, of course, 3D animals seem more real to him than human beings on screen.

I agree that the animals and the jungle look wondrously real, yet there’s not much to startle or devastate any child who has watched Maleficent with its betrayed heartbroken evil queen or Kung Fu Panda with the monstrously murderous immortal Kai.

What there is to appreciate though about Nihalani’s statement is that it shows a certain naïveté and innocence about him, which I was not aware of. What else can explain him observing and appreciating The Jungle Book through a child’s eye? Maybe Nihalani is India’s Little Prince. Which would also explain his wide-eyed admiration of our Lord and Master, Modiji.

While I strongly recommend The Jungle Book, I also equally strongly recommend a parent go along to the theatre with any child below 7 or 8 years of age. Not because the animals jumping out are “startling", but simply because this is a surprisingly grim retelling of the book. There are few laughs or songs, unlike the animation version. I kept waiting for the three vultures who sang “That’s what friends are for" to Mowgli, to pop up. Also, Kaa is there for barely 3 to 4 minutes. Frankly, Mowgli has quite the joy-less existence through most of the film.

But this film—much like the book—delivers many messages: from literally not playing with fire, to how families and parents don’t need to be related to you by blood, to the fight of good over evil, to dealing with the death of a parent, to simply loving animals, to learning to co-exist with others and to the downfall of dictators and megalomaniacs through Shere Khan and King Louie’s characters. Forget children, The Jungle Book should be mandatory viewing for all political parties and politicians and my favourite Twitter trolls, for the last three reasons.

If Mr Nihalani is reading this, I do tender an apology for mocking you on Twitter. But why did you not exercise such concern for viewing audiences, for the terror that you unleashed on all us adults with your version of The Nihalani Horror Show? Be warned, gird your loins and pop a sorbitrate, before clicking on play.

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