Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Aryan Khan, Asrani, Sanjay Mishra, Ashish Vidyarthi

I want to begin with a story.  Around 10 years ago, I interviewed Swedish actress Noomi Rapace. She was creating waves globally as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was based on the bestselling book. The book series was so popular that David Fincher was doing an English-language remake. Fincher had just done The Social Network. Any actor would have given their right arm to work with him. And this could have been her big break in Hollywood. But Rapace said she didn’t want to play Lisbeth again. When I asked why, she simply said: Because repetition would be cynical.

Clearly this has never occurred to the Disney Corporation. Because after the lame, live-action Aladdin remake, we now have the all-new The Lion King. I saw the Hindi version. And the only thing that kept me going was the voices of Hindi film artists – who could have imagined the fun veteran actor Asrani has as Zazu, the somewhat annoying, overprotective hornbill who is advisor to King Mufasa. Or how Sanjay Mishra’s droll delivery makes Pumbaa’s lines even funnier. And the icing on the cake is Shah Rukh and Aryan Khan as Mufasa and Simba but more on that later.

The original The Lion King had gorgeous hand-drawn animation, oodles of charm and a great, beating heart. This one is almost a frame-to-frame remake

The Lion King is visually stunning. Like the original 1994 film, this one also opens with a majestic sunrise on the plains of Africa where all the animals have gathered to greet their new prince Simba. You might briefly think you are watching a Nat Geo documentary. Because The Lion King is a photorealistic film. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine, Director Jon Favreau said that the attempt was to make an animated film feel like a live-action film. So each blade of grass or the fur on an animal’s back looks hyper real but all of it is digital so there is something weirdly fake in its perfection. And when the animals start speaking, the illusion falls apart. It’s impossible to buy into a beautifully rendered, absolutely natural-looking lion, who also talks. The original The Lion King had gorgeous hand-drawn animation, oodles of charm and a great, beating heart. Which is why it’s one of the most successful animated movies of all time. This one is almost a frame-to-frame remake. I marveled at the painstaking workmanship but it was hard to feel any emotion.

So as the story of the noble king Mufasa, his evil brother Scar and the playful Simba who must rise up to his destiny repeated itself, I found relief in the Hindi dub. Some of it is clumsy – the songs don’t work in Hindi. ‘Zindagi ki kadi’ doesn’t have the same power as ‘Circle of Life’. Scar and his posse of dimwitted but deadly hyenas also lose their impact. Ashish Vidyarthi provides the menace for Scar but some of the dialogues sound too much like they are from an 80s film – after Mufasa’s death, Scar says to the queen – aao meri rani ban jaao roz daavat hi daavat hogi. I thought the next line was going to be – aao kabhi haveli pe.  And hyena in Hindi is lakkad bhagga. It took a while just to get used to that.

Some of the dialogues sound too much like they are from an 80s film – after Mufasa’s death, Scar says to the queen – aao meri rani ban jaao roz daavat hi daavat hogi

But Shah Rukh and Aryan are well cast. Shah Rukh’s voice of course has a wonderful familiarity. We’ve known it for more than 25 years. When Mufasa speaks, the voice and our relationship with it imbues the character with authority and affection. Aryan’s voice is introduced when Simba grows up. Aryan sounds so much like his father that it instantly triggered in me a range of emotions – an overwhelming sense of time passing, nostalgia, a tinge of sadness at my own mortality. I’m not an advocate of nepotism but the truth is that here, it works. Aryan captures the anguish, entitlement and ultimate redemption of Simba. He’s good. And with him as Simba taking over from Shah Rukh as Mufasa, the circle of life literally completes itself.

So if you want to give The Lion King a shot, my advice is, see it in Hindi. In English, it will be even more forgettable.

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