Thursday, May 30, 2024

Kartiki Gonsalves’ “The Elephant Whisperers” makes India proud at the Oscars 2023.

Priya Kumari – Enigmatic Horizon Staff (Sub-editor)

Robin Bhuyan (Editor)

Kartiki Gonsalves’ “The Elephant Whisperers,” a 39-minute Indian-Tamil language documentary film, made history at the Oscars 2023, or the 95th Academy Awards, as the Best Documentary Short Film. It was released worldwide on Netflix on December 8, 2022. While receiving the award, the director appreciated the Academy for recognizing and nominating the film, along with the producer of the film, Guneet Monga, and her motherland- India. 

Her speech while receiving the award was indeed heart-touching. She stated, “I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and our natural world, for the respect of the indigenous communities, and empathy towards the other living beings we share space with, and finally, for coexistence”. 

We all know that hard work always pays off. The director, before making this documentary, had spent five years finding a blended family from the Kattunayakan tribe of Tamil Nadu. She stated that she met Raghu, the baby elephant, when he was exactly three months old, and she spent about a year and a half with him before making the documentary. The film was shot at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Theppakadu Elephant Camp, located in the southern region of Tamil Nadu. The documentary is based on the true story of a tribal couple, Bomman and Belli, belonging to the Kattunayakan community of Tamil Nadu, who had served their entire lives taking care of the forest. This film portrays the lovely bond between an elephant and humans and how this couple looks after an injured baby elephant, Raghu, who had lost his herd. Later, Belli was also given the responsibility to take care of Ammu, a female elephant calf. Gradually, their attachment to each other became stronger, and Raghu became their new family member. They eventually began living happily together, taking care of each other.

When Raghu became an adolescent, the state’s forest department took him away and entrusted him to another caretaker who had more experience handling elephants. Both Raghu and the tribal couple felt terrible, and this left their eyes full of tears. Once, when Belli was crying, remembering Raghu, it was Ammu who wiped away her tears. So, this film portrays the connection between humans and animals as well as their love for one another. How this tribal couple devoted their entire lives to taking care of the animals from generation to generation is what the film is about. The film manages to beautifully show how Raghu enjoyed being with the family and how the family had accepted him. 

When the film received the Oscar, Bomman stated that although they were happy that the film had received such a major award, at the same time, they were sad that Raghu was not with them. 

This film explores the relations between humans and animals, and it shows the lovely bond between the tribal couple and the elephant, which eventually grows into genuine care and affection. Most of us have grown up watching films where dogs are humanized, and it is great to see the same for elephants. Not only do elephants have a good memory, but they can also develop an attachment to human beings like dogs. With brilliant cinematography, the director manages to create a film that will make you smile, cry, and take a place in your heart in just around 40 minutes.   

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