The Jungle Book released in India a week ahead of its US debut, to pay tribute to the Indian environment of the novel on which the film is based.
The first time King Louie appears on the screen, he is sitting in a chair, his face obscured by shadows and talking in a sinister, slightly muffled voice about offering Mowgli protection before finally revealing his face. This is an obvious homage to the classic film Apocalypse Now (1979) in which Marlon Brando‘s character, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, first appears on screen similarly composed. Also, the scene where Louie first shows his hand to Mowgli is a homage to the Peter Jackson version of King Kong (2005) where Kong does the same thing upon meeting Ann Darrow.
Unlike the 1967 film, also by Disney, King Louie is an actual villain in this version, where he is more antagonistic and sinister, and though he is a bit more charming and convincing, he can be quite impatient and aggressive. Though many see him as a villain in The Jungle Book (1967), he is actually more of an anti-hero in it, and has been seen in his other appearances in film and television to be on the same side as Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo.
In the 1967 movie, King Louie was an orangutan. In this film, he’s a gigantopithecus, an ancestor of the orangutan whose range is believed to have also lived in parts of India. This change in species was made to make the film more fantastic, seeing as it would be a good way to represent him as king of the monkeys, and since orangutans are not native to India.
Right before he meets King Louie, Mowgli finds a cowbell in the monkey palace and proceeds to pick it up and shake it, causing Louie to appear. King Louie is played by Christopher Walken, who once famously stated on a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 2000, “I have a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!” Amid the treasures in King Louie’s temple, one of them happens to be Genie’s lamp from Aladdin (1992).
Man’s ‘Red Flower’ (Laal Pushp in the Hindi version) has a bigger role in this film. In the older version, it is mentioned briefly by King Louie but in this version several animals mention it and it is implied all animals apart from Louie fear it. This possibly explains why Louie wanted to know how to make fire so he can use it to his own advantage so that all animals including Shere Khan fear him.
“Love has changed, so stories also will change. Tell me, if you fall in love, will you send your special someone kitaab mein purza daal ke (notes hidden inside books)? Now, the grammar of relationships has changed. Now it’s all about a boy saying, “Hi Mom. This is so and so..we are friends..and this weekend we are going to Darjeeling.” Conversations and connections are becoming easy now. Pehle the boy would stutter and stammer in front of his mom. He would be like, “Maa.. Maa.. yeh yeh.. he wouldn’t be even able to take the girl’s name..and just say, yeh mere college mein..” And it was up to the mom to fill in the gaps. Time, people and language have changed, so scenes also have to change. In today’s films, mothers speak in English and drive cars. This is good progress. If the woman has changed, then stories will also change.” – the inimitable Gulzar
Read this brilliant interview of Gulzar’s by Harneet Singh.
*This extract has been reproduced from Mint, published on May 10, 2016.