Plot: Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book about a boy raised by wolves, this version concentrates on Mowgli’s return to his family’s village and the challenges he faces as he tries to adjust to “civilized” life. When Mowgli’s father is killed by Shere Kahn (the tiger), the toddler wanders off into the jungle, and is raised by wolves. He finds the village again when he is about fourteen (played by Sabu). His mother, who does not recognize him at first, teaches him how to speak their language and how people in the village behave.
Mowgli wants to buy a “tooth” (knife) to kill Shere Kahn. He buys one from Buldeo (Joseph Calleia) a hunter who hunts for reasons of pride instead of need. Though Buldeo tells his daughter Mahala not to talk to Mowgli, she goes with him into the jungle, where he shows her an abandoned palace, filled with gold and jewels. In the palace, a cobra warns them that the jewels are deadly, especially a ruby-embedded ax. Mowgli allows Mahala to take one coin. When her father finds it, he wants Mowgli to show him how to get more. He accidentally drops the coin, so that a barber and his customer see it, and they want to find the palace, too. They all find the palace, but fight over the treasure. When the barber and his customer are killed, Buldeo lights a fire in the jungle. Mowgli saves his mother, and goes back to live in the jungle.
Discussion: Visually lush and striking (produced by some of the same people who made “Thief of Bagdad”), this version is in sharp contrast with the Disney animated movie, and has a real sense of the danger in the jungle and the different kinds of dangers in the “civilized” village.
Like other “fish out of water” stories, this movie provides an opportunity to deconstruct “civilization” a bit by looking at it from the perspective of an outsider. Mowgli compares of the values of the “wolf-pack” and the “man-pack,” and finds it hard to understand why someone would take something of no inherent value (money) in exchange for something of value (a “tooth” to help him kill Shere Kahn), or why someone would kill an animal to display its hide. Children will enjoy Mowgli’s ability to talk to animals, and the way he treats them with respect and affection. He is clearly more at home with the animals than he is with the humans.