Shrouded in tall grass, he stalks his prey. Step by step he looms closer. Some steps are slow and some quick, but all are calculated. Closer and closer, he is about to strike, until… the clash of elephant horns crash through the air. The deer is gone in an instant and all that is left is the tiger, Shere Khan, annoyed and hungry.
It’s nearly halfway through the Disney’s 1967 film The Jungle Book before we finally see this infamous feline, but from the first time we meet Shere Khan he only wanted to do what he was made to do: hunt. You don’t have to explain much or dress him up for us to be afraid of him: kitty’s got claws.
One thing is for sure, this is no ordinary tiger. Well over 10 years old, but he hasn’t peaked yet. It is still said that the strength of an entire wolf pack would be no match for him. It seems that to the rest of the inhabitants of the jungle, Khan, is just someone to watch out for but for a “man cub,” well, if he runs into Khan, he’s just out of luck. “He hates man’s gun and man’s fire.” He is so set on his ways that he will kill a child to keep him from growing up to be a hunter with a gun. Explain to him that there could be a boy who wouldn’t try to destroy the jungle way of life through arsen or hunting? “Non-sense, no one explains anything to Shere Khan.”
In Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi,The word Shere (or “shir“) translates as “tiger” or “lion” and Khan translates as “sovereign,” “king”, or “military leader”, but you could call him by many names. He’s an opportunist, a capitalist (though slightly atypical in that he’s obviously not a fan of the NRA) and you also can’t forget that he’s a fabulous Barbershop Bass with voice talents of George Sanders (Seriously, he sings probably the deepest note on a Disney soundtrack ever). It doesn’t really matter what you call him. He knows who he is and what he wants. He’s cool, collected, and always in control. But he also knows his limits for both fight and flight. One branch of fire and he’s gone.
When he appears periodically on the TV series TaleSpin he is in more of an anthropomorphic state and wears high class suits and appears to be the sole proprietor of Cape Suzette’s largest companies, Khan Enterprises which tends to have it’s hands in many local businesses. He is not the villain but more of an anti-hero. He progresses the story just by pursuing his own best interests. Which is probably the best way to see Shere Khan. After all, the main reason Mowgli, in Rudyard Kipling The Jungle Book, needs to go back to the ‘Man Village’ is because… as the all wise Bagera puts it, “birds of a feather must flock together…” It’s not like Mowgli would marry a panther, would he? Khan wants to keep the balance in the jungle knows that Mowgli does not belong.
Never able to out do the animated version, in 1994 Disney took a live-action view of the subject matter. In that version Khan has an added level of civility and judgement, as he only kills those who break “the jungle law.” It’s a simple law, “Kill only to eat or keep from being eaten.”
We wont have to wait long to see what the newest iteration of this classic villain. Jon Favreau is set to direct Idris Elba as the voice of Shere Khan in 2015.