Bagheera (Hindi: बघीरा; Urdu: بگیڑہ Baghīrā/Bagīdah) is a fictional character in Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories in the Jungle Book (coll. 1894) and the Second Jungle Book (coll. 1895). He is a black panther (melanistic Indian leopard) who serves as friend, protector and mentor to the "man-cub" Mowgli. The word bagheera is Hindi/Urdu for black panther.
"Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than dawn."
Born in captivity in the menagerie of the Raja of Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, Bagheera begins to plan for his freedom after his mother dies. Once he is mature and strong enough, he breaks the lock on his cage and escapes into the jungle, where his ferocity and cunning nature win him the respect of all its other inhabitants, including Shere Khan. Bagheera reveals all this to Mowgli later. None but Mowgli ever learn that Bagheera once wore a collar and chain, explaining the cat's special insight concerning men.
When Father Wolf and Mother Wolf of the Seeonee (Seoni) wolf pack adopt the human "cub" Mowgli and the pack demands that the new cub should be spoken for, Bagheera buys Mowgli's life with a freshly killed bull and helps to raise him as one of the pack. Because his life has been bought by a bull, Mowgli is forbidden to eat cattle (coincidentally, just as the Hindu villagers of the region are also forbidden).
Bagheera shares in many of Mowgli's adventures as he grows, but eventually the time comes when the man-cub becomes a man and has to return to human society. Bagheera frees Mowgli of his debt to the wolf pack by killing another bull, and Mowgli returns to his adopted human mother Messua.
In some film and television series adaptations of the Jungle Book Bagheera is an Indian leopard. In other appearances, he has a black pigmentation, which is why he is commonly referred to as a black panther.
Disney animated versions
In Disney's 1967 animated adaptation, Bagheera the panther is, as in the book, male, and voiced by Sebastian Cabot. The panther is portrayed as an intelligent, mature, and logical character, quite similar to the Bagheera in the books. In the film, it is Bagheera and not the wolves who first finds Mowgli, a young village child, and he is the one who takes him back to the village. During the film, Bagheera often lectures Baloo, for he knows that as long as Shere Khan is in the jungle, the jungle is not safe for Mowgli despite all of Baloo's attempts to protect him. Bagheera is also the narrator of the film's story.
Bagheera is also one of the major characters left out of the TaleSpin series which used several Jungle Book characters. However, many of Shere Khan's employees and military personnel are black panthers very similar in appearance to Bagheera.
In the prequel cartoon series Jungle Cubs, Bagheera was voiced by Elizabeth Daily and Dee Bradley Baker, and was often made fun of by his friends, especially the bully Shere Khan. He is also called "Baggy" by Baloo. Like Shere Khan, he too has a British accent in the 1967 film, but has an American accent in this series.
In The Jungle Book 2, he is voiced by Bob Joles and reappears as the mature Bagheera. He tries to reason with a depressed Baloo that Mowgli's place is in the Man Village, and that the jungle is not safe for him because Shere Khan has returned to get revenge on Mowgli for humiliating him, but Baloo is certain that with their help, Mowgli can handle the tiger a second time, and bypasses Bagheera. Frustrated, he calls upon Colonel Hathi and his troops to block Baloo's path. When the villagers try to find Mowgli, he suspects that Baloo has brought him back; he confronts Baloo with the news and expresses his thoughts that maybe he has seen him. Baloo hides Mowgli from Bagheera and convinces Bagheera that he is not with him, although Bagheera does not entirely believe it. He appears again later on, when Mowgli's younger adoptive brother Ranjan and Baloo are hurrying to save Mowgli from Shere Khan, and joins them. When they reach the temple built on a lava lake, Bagheera waits outside with Ranjan and warns Baloo to be careful before he goes inside to help Mowgli. After Shere Khan is trapped, Mowgli introduces Bagheera to Shanti, the girl who is Mowgli's best friend at the village. Near the end of the film, Ranjan is shown playing with Bagheera's tail. At first Bagheera is scared, but he later enjoys playing with him while Mowgli, Shanti, and Baloo sing the reprise of "The Bare Necessities".
1994 Disney live-action film
In the 1994 live-action film, Bagheera serves as a jungle animal friend to Mowgli and his pet wolf, Grey Brother. After Mowgli and Grey Brother are separated from civilization, Bagheera finds them the next day. Hearing Shere Khan's roar from a distance, Bagheera signals with his tail to Mowgli to grab on to it so as to lead him out of harm's way. It takes a while until Bagheera finally brings Mowgli and Grey Brother to a pack of Grey Indian wolves. Seeing as the child is young, friendly, helpless, harmless, and kind to a cub of their species, the wolves accept them as members of the pack, much to Bagheera's delight.
Years later, Bagheera is seen most of the time spending time relaxing on a tree and occasionally running with a fully-grown Mowgli, Grey Brother, and a new friend named Baloo, the bear, who was saved as a cub by Mowgli on the day Mowgli is accepted into the wolf pack.
A few days later, after Mowgli has learned the ways of men and re-entered civilization thanks to Katherine "Kitty" Brydon and Dr. Julius Plumford, Bagheera is seen being introduced to Kitty by Mowgli along with all the rest of Mowgli's jungle animal friends. Bagheera and the other animals watch as Kitty teaches Mowgli some dancing lessons, much to their amusement.
In a later tussle against soldiers working for Captain Boone, Baloo is shot and left for dead. Bagheera is then seen running with Mowgli and the wolf pack to locate Dr. Julius Plumford to save Baloo's life, only to find that the doctor has already left with Kitty and her father, Colonel Geoffrey Brydon, to bring Katherine to the ship to England. Mowgli goes out and follows them with the wolves, leaving Bagheera behind. After saving Dr. Plumford from death, Bagheera is seen charging along with the wolf pack against Indian bandits.
After Mowgli is captured by evil British soldiers—Boone, Lt. Wilkins, and Sergeant Harley—and the remaining Indian bandits—Buldeo and Tabaqui—Bagheera is seen with the wolves keeping an eye on Mowgli, his friends, and enemies while staring at Boone and Wilkins mostly. When Wilkins asks himself why Bagheera is staring at them, Mowgli replies, "Because to him, you are 'food'." A reply is hinted afterwards when Bagheera sticks out his tongue to show his hunger for them. The next morning, Bagheera is seen biting through the ropes tying Mowgli to a tree, thus allowing him to escape, and then later on, to rescue the left-out injured Colonel Brydon from death.
In the final scene, after Boone's defeat, Bagheera is seen crossing a bridge with Kitty and a triumphant Mowgli while reuniting with the British Army sent out by Colonel Brydon, who was successfully cured from his injuries by Dr. Plumford (who also manages to cure Baloo), to find them.
2016 Disney live-action film
Ben Kingsley voices the CG character in the 2016 live-action film. In an interview with Ben Kingsley regarding his portrayal of Bagheera, Kingsley describes Bagheera as Mowgli's adoptive parent, saying that his role in Mowgli's life is "to educate, to protect and to guide". Kingsley further describes Bagheera as being analogous to military in his personality, specifically a Colonel; saying that "he's instantly recognizable by the way that he talks, how he acts, and what his ethical code is". In this film, Bagheera plays the role of Mowgli's mentor and rescues him after Shere Khan kills the boy's father. He is continually protecting Mowgli and teaches him to be a creature of the jungle and a member of the wolf pack led by Akela. When Shere Khan threatens Mowgli's life, Bagheera agrees to guide him to the man-village where he can safely live with other humans. However, en route, Shere Khan ambushes them. Bagheera fights with Shere Khan and though he is beaten and mildly injured by the tiger, he gives Mowgli enough time to escape. They do not reunite again until much later, when Mowgli is helping Baloo gather honey (in repayment for Baloo saving him from the python, Kaa) and announces he wishes to stay with Baloo, much to Bagheera's disappointment. Bagheera later speaks with Baloo and after explaining the boy's predicament and tells Baloo to lie to Mowgli and tell him they were never friends so as to ensure he ends up living in the man-village. However, before this plan can be implemented, a group of monkeys led by the Gigantopithecus King Louie, abduct Mowgli to try to learn of the secret of fire. Working together, Bagheera and Baloo fight off the monkeys long enough for Mowgli to hide from King Louie, and the resulting chase causes in the ape king's presumed demise. After word of the death of Akela by Shere Khan's hand reaches Mowgli, the boy is furious with Bagheera and Baloo for keeping the news from him. He then runs away and steals a burning torch from the man-village (accidentally starting a forest fire in the process), and returns to the jungle to avenge Akela. Bagheera helps Baloo and the wolf pack fight Shere Khan long enough to allow Mowgli to set a trap for the tiger, which allows Mowgli to lure him over a fiery pit into which he falls to his death. After, Bagheera is last seen sitting with Baloo and Mowgli, who has found his true home in the jungle.
The portrayal of Bagheera as well as Ben Kingsley's voice acting were praised in the 2016 film. Rotten Tomatoes top critic James Berardinelli stated: "Ben Kingsley brings the appropriate level of gravitas to the strait-laced Bagheera". Todd VanDerWerff from Vox gave Bagheera the top spot on a ranking of all the talking animals from the film from best to worst stating: "By the very nature of the story, Bagheera has to be sidelined for a time — so that Mowgli is forced to confront the dangers of the jungle alone — but this version of the tale really made me feel the cat's absence. That's a good sign" "-any iteration of The Jungle Book is only as good as its Bagheera. He's the concerned parent, worried about what his child will find around the next corner, the big cat who knows he has to let go just a little but can't find it in himself to do so".
- In the 1967 animated Soviet film, Adventures of Mowgli, Bagheera is portrayed as a female. This may be related to the fact that the Russian word for "panther" is a feminine noun, and a name ending with 'a' is considered to be a female name in the Russian language (a male panther would have been named Bagheer). In this version, she has three cubs, one black and two yellow with rosette patterns. Bagheera is portrayed as friendly, loyal, trustworthy, and protective, yet somewhat cunning and tricky.
- In the 1991 song "Bagheera" by Blues Traveler, Bagheera is depicted with blood-stained fur drinking at the bar, counseling a young man-cub about his choice to live as man or as a free creature. Mowgli remembers when he was in the midst of his decision to live with the world of Man or to return to the jungle and be free. The line says "some say if you could have seen him then, you would have noticed a tear fall from his majestic eye."
- In the 1996 Hungarian play version, Bagheera is again a female panther. Her main role is bribing the wolf pack with a bull, so they accept Mowgli as Akela's cub, teaching Mowgli with Baloo about the Rules of the Jungle, and advising him throughout the play.
- In the 1998 film The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story, Bagheera is portrayed as a female, voiced by Eartha Kitt.
- In the 2002 comic book series Fables, Bagheera appears as one of the characters living in exile on the Farm in upstate New York. He participates in the farm uprising and, along with the other "Kipling" fables, he assists Goldilocks in tracking down Reynard the Fox. Bagheera actually succeeds in tracking down Reynard, though the Fox manages to escape from him. It is implied that Bagheera's primary motivation for capturing the Fox is to show up Shere Khan after Khan arrogantly rejects Bagheera's offer of help. After the uprising is defeated, a remorseful Bagheera agrees to imprisonment rather than forced labor. However, as he reveals to Mowgli, he has the memory of urinating on the deceased Shere Khan's grave to amuse himself.
- A 2007 Swedish play version of The Jungle Book spoofed the confusion of Bagheera's sex in the media by portraying him as a transvestite.
- In the upcoming 2018 film, Christian Bale will voice Bagheera.