KARACHI: Mowgli, the feral child and main protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, delighted children and adults alike at a dramatic adaptation at the National Academy of Performing Arts on Wednesday.
Organised in collaboration with Goethe-Institut, ‘Mowgli’s Jungle’ introduced Erum Bashir in the avatar of the young man-cub who must overcome his recklessness and naivety in the big, bad jungle. The agility required by the character of Mowgli, eager to please and prove his mettle, was encapsulated by Bashir with bravado. Audiences, especially young children, may have found the concept difficult to accept a female cast as the lead male protagonist, and this is where the director Michael Miensopust’s vision helped transcend the play from being mere ordinary.
For most of the adults in the audience, ‘Mowgli’s Jungle’ was a trip down memory lane, with flashbacks to the 1967 Disney production that was a staple in many a childhood, across generations. From Baloo the bear who is Mowgli’s constant, care-free companion, to Bagheera the Black Panther, sleek and more attuned to the dangers the jungle poses for Mowgli, the trio was light-hearted yet serious, and the children in the audience loved them.
Played by Hammad Siddiq and Hasan Raza respectively, Baloo and Bagheera’s unlikely friendship, especially when they put away their differences for the sake of Mowgli, was engaging. The banter they indulged in showed the love and friendship Kipling’s timeless characters have long been popular for.
However, it was Shere Khan the merciless Bengal Tiger who is Mowgli’s sworn enemy, that was a favourite among the crowd. The grace of the tiger was captured well by Kashif Hussain, and his efforts to hunt and kill Mowgli were at the receiving end of many comments from the children in the audience, who were at the edge of their seats to find out about Mowgli’s fate.
Humour was also used as dramatic relief with buffoonery a constant from most of the characters, thereby helping to lighten up the mood. Characters would break into song and dance too, and this heightened the anticipation of the play’s eventual unravelling. All choreography was managed by Anne-Kathrin Klatt from Germany with the music accompanying the play by Ajay Harry and Ahsan Ghulam Haider.
Survival of the fittest was one of the metaphors that ran throughout the length of the play, portrayed through Mowgli’s struggle to survive. He recognises he is different from the animals in the jungle, yet yearns to be one of them, accepted by them. It is towards the end that a realisation comes that he belongs to a world beyond the jungle, and once again the journey of survival among human beings begins.
And who can forget Kaa. An unlikely friend to Mowgli, the yellow python has moments of dubious intention but all comes right in the end. Brought onstage by Farhan Alam, known for doing justice to several eccentric characters he has played in previous productions, Alam did not disappoint. Be it when he casts a spell using his gaze to capture his prey, or when it is time to shed his old skin, Alam sashayed into each scene with ease, gently veiling the vindictiveness he reserves for those who cross him, and which thankfully Mowgli escapes unscathed from.
The play ends with an open-ended question regarding whether Mowgli faced a greater threat from Sher Khan, or his unlikely mentor, Kaa.
The play is exclusively reserved for schoolchildren during the week; however, shows on October 30 and 31 will be open to the public.