Ace filmmaker Chuck Russell has joined hands with Junglee Pictures and Vidyut Jammwal to direct an action-adventure about a man and an elephant. The film titled Junglee, will feature Vidyut as a veterinarian-turned-activist-avenger.
Sources close to the project say that the film is going to be special as almost half a century after Rajesh Khanna's Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), a story on similar lines is being directed.
Chuck Russell made his debut as a director with the hit film A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors which at the time of its release in 1987 was the highest grossing independent film ever made. The American writer-director has made several blockbuster films like the Oscar-nominated Jim Carrey superhero comedy The Mask, Arnold Schwarzenegger's action-thriller Eraser and The Scorpion King which was Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson's first lead role.
Chuck was also the executive producer in critically-acclaimed Michael Mann directed neo-noir crime thriller Collateral (2004).
Junglee rolls in October and is targeting a summer 2018 release. Priti Shahani (president), Junglee Pictures says, “We reached out to Chuck saying that we had a story which is set locally but could appeal to him since it touches on an issue of global significance with the United Nations lobbying to end poaching and the ivory movement. He read it, came down to India to meet and discuss the structure with Ritesh (Shah) who has written this heart-warming story, and agreed to direct it. He will be flying in next month to start preparations.”
Priti also highlighted the fact that Chuck was their go-to person because animals are a part of his narratives, be it the dog in The Mask or the camels in The Scorpion King. She says, “Surprisingly, for an American director, he loves song and dance which will be an integral part of our commercial entertainer with a message.”
The action thriller film unfolds in the Jungles of Kerala and will be shot in the state's elephant reserve. Vidyut plays the character of Ashwath who is coming home from Mumbai for his mother's 10th death anniversary and reuniting with his elephant friend.
Priti adds, “The stunning location is a part of the storytelling and from the research perspective, the poaching trail in India starts from Kerala, passes through Orissa and Kolkata in West Bengal to head to Thailand,” informs Priti, quick to add that the animals will not be expected to perform any tricks, rather the makers are working closely with animal handlers to understand how elephants behave in their natural habitat and in their interaction with humans. “The script is being written around them,” she adds.
Priti further says that like the director Chuck, Vidyut is the apt choice for this one-of-a-kind thriller which will not have the typical five action pieces but will focus on Kalaripayattu, a form of martial arts which originated in Kerala. “This kind of action is rarely seen in our films or those made in the West.Vidyut is a trained Kalaripayattu artist so he's the perfect actor to tell our story.”
With Chuck being on board for the film, the question is whether this project can turn into an English film. Priti said, “We have written it primarily for a Hindi-speaking audience but Chuck's involvement reinstates that the story has the ability to connect with an international audience too and can be turned into a Hindi-English bilingual.” She further pointed the fact that what really inspired the story was that in the last 18 months there has been a concerted global movement towards protecting elephants.