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Ten-Year-Old Neel Sethi to Make Film Debut in ‘The Jungle Book’

Ten-year-old Neel Sethi, a New York-based elementary school student, has been cast as Mowgli in Disney’s upcoming remake of “The Jungle Book.” The latest adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 short story collection will be a combination of both live-action film and animation. Sethi will be the only actor who appears on screen.

Variety reports that thousands of young actors from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia auditioned for the role of Mowgli, the young boy from Central India who is one of Kipling’s most famous characters.

“Casting is the most important element of any film and finding the right kid to play Mowgli was imperative,” director Jon Favreau said in a statement. “Neel has tremendous talent and charisma. There is a lot riding on his little shoulders and I’m confident he can handle it.”

Sethi will not be the only actor of South Asian descent to appear in the film. It was announced last month that Sir Ben Kingsley - the British Indian actor whose birth name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji - will voice the notorious black panther Bagheera. Other big-name stars attached to the project include Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, and actors Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson.

The film and its source material have attracted controversy in recent years. The Christian Science Monitor noted in its piece on Kingsley’s casting that the original short stories featured “a few racially insensitive themes that could make the live adaptation ill-suited to the 21st century.” Disney’s 1967 animated version of the story has been criticized for featuring offensive portrayals of African Americans, including the character of King Louie, who did not appear in Kipling’s original story.

None of this, however, has dimmed Hollywood’s enthusiasm for ‘The Jungle Book.’ Because the book and characters are now in the public domain, there are two adaptations of the story currently in the works. Warner Bros. is also hard at work creating their own version of the story.

Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’ is set to be released in 3D on October 9, 2015.

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