The Lion King First Impression - When the jungle spoke Tamil, loud and clear
A mini spoiler-free write-up about the writer's experience watching the Tamil dubbed version of The Lion King
Almost 90 minutes into the Tamil-dubbed version of The Lion King, Simba and Nala return to the Pride Lands with Timon and Pumbaa in tow. This is the first time Simba is walking back into the world that he ran away from after the death of his father, Mufasa. Nala is bringing Simba back to the now dusty and grim world, to help him claim his rightful throne from Scar. In between all this, Robo Shankar as Pumbaa exclaims, "Nalla sezhippa suthittu irundha Simba va, ipdi thanni illaadha kaatuku kondu vandhuttiye?" The theatre erupted in laughter.
Such comic exchanges, particularly those between Timon (Singampuli) and Pumbaa, and the presence of a nonchalant Zazu (Manobala), are the highlights of the film, which otherwise fails to really strike a chord. How can you not laugh when you hear Zazu talk to Simba like he talks to a Sivakarthikeyan in Ethir Neechal? Similarly, be it Robo Shankar or Singampuli, the emphasis is more on delivering dialogues that are completely rooted. Timon referring to Simba as 'Chimba' or 'Chingam' makes us forget we are watching a dubbed version of an English film. It helps that these one-liners, written by Madhan Karky, aren't just translations. Not surprising given he is the one who made Tamil audience own a quintessential Telugu film like Baahubali. Can we forget Ramya Krishnan bellowing, "Idhuve en kattalai, en kattalaiye sasanam."
Karky is in top form, not just in the comedy scenes, but also in the serious ones, especially those involving Scar, voiced by Arvind Swami. The actor brings to the table his menacing baritone coupled with honey-dripping malice. Be it in the opening scene where he talks about the unfairness of the world, or the Shakespearean monologue to unsettle the older Simba, Arvind exudes a sense of calm aggression. While Siddharth's (older) Simba does not get a lot of screentime, the actor's singing adds a lovely little touch to the character.
Considering Karky's proficiency as a lyricist, the songs are a bit of a mixed bag, thanks to the liberal use of word-by-word translation, which is quite a let-down. 'Circle of Life' becomes 'Vaazhkaye Vattamaai' and 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' turns into 'Singam Thoongudhu', neither of which lands quite as effectively as the original songs. On the other hand, a song like 'Can you feel the love tonight' works beautifully in Tamil too. Singampuli and Robo Shankar even manage to do the unthinkable and get us to enjoy the iconic Hakuna Matata in Tamil. While the songs didn't all work for me, I was completely sold on the dialogues and voice acting of all the performers, without exception. Aishwarya Rajessh, in her voice-acting debut, nicely fleshes out Nala. And then there are seasoned dubbing artistes like Rohini and Ravishankar, who channel the dignified anger and authoritative tones of Sarabi and Mufasa, respectively.
Overall, watching The Lion King in Tamil was an interesting experience. Even as I was slapping my thighs and laughing out loud at the antics of Timon and Pumbaa, I was underwhelmed by what I was seeing on screen — a poor recreation of my childhood memories, 25 years later.
Was this how I expected Jon Favreau's vision of The Lion King would be? No, especially after seeing what he did with The Jungle Book.
Was this how I expected The Lion King's Tamil version would be? No, especially after what AR Murugadoss and Vijay Sethupathi did to Avengers: Endgame.
While I was let down on one expectation, the other was probably one of the most pleasant surprises this year. The Lion King didn't roar loud enough, but it squeals and grunts its way through for sure, and by the end of the ride, I couldn't help but come out of the screening with a wide smile. Well, Hakuna Matata... ain't no passing craze.
PS: Bring on the Timon and Pumbaa spinoff, please!