Oscar-Nominated Indian Documentary ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ is a Reminder That we can all Co-Exist | Movies News

The Elephant Whisperers, on Netflix, is getting more eyeballs in India after it was nominated for the Academy Awards 2023, also known as Oscars, in the Best Short Documentary category. The late appreciation coming in for this fine piece of art is heartening but once you watch it, you’ll know the film deserves much more than that. It is kind of rare and difficult for documentaries to find a place in peoples’ heart and a time slot in cinema halls in India and this ignorance in us will go soon, hopefully. The Elephant Whisperers does a great job to flame this hope. 

This beautifully-shot documentary is about a unique family living in a forest in Tamil Nadu yet it is so much more than that. The 41-minute film opens with a beautiful montage of forest life. We are in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. The visuals are stunning. The surrounding hills, the tiger walking in the field, the monkeys doing their stunts on the trees, the birds chirping loud while a quiet stream runs through the rocks. Shot so aesthetically as if to tell why despite wild animals running around all over, the forests are not the wildest places. The wildest is maybe outside.  

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Not the makers’ fault but for the non-Tamil speaking audience, the documentary throws a challenge, which is to focus on the subtitles while being mesmerised by nature’s beauty. The pictures are eye-soothing but it is the enlightening words of Bomman and Bellie that drive the narrative and tell the story of a family that came together because of the forest. The narrative compliments the visuals so well that no one thing among the two overpowers the other.  

Bomman and Bellie are caretakers of two baby elephants in this forest. The story revolves around these two orphaned elephant babies who come to them in a bad physical and mental state at different stages. Had they been not found in an abandoned state by the forest authorities, Bomman and Bellie would not have found each other and this little family, would not have rediscovered themselves either. With love, care and kindness, they take care of these babies as if the elephants were their own kids.  

The beauty of The Elephant Whisperers is that it speaks on many levels. On one level, it is a story of animal cruelty; on the other, it is a tale of love and affection.  

And then there is another narrative that involves the identity of Bomman and Bellie, who are tribals, and who find themselves cornered today in the country. In government schemes and budgets, the tribals are the last ones to get a share and at times, they are not even considered. There are many tribal groups in the country who are protesting and fighting to keep their homes, forests protected. The documentary does not directly point to this struggle. Yet it subtly does the same job by merely putting out their stories to the masses. 

Bomman and Bellie say they have nowhere else to go. They were born here in forests and will die here. Bomman has spent his whole life taking care of elephants. His life has always been around them. And Bellie found a new meaning of life when she started taking care of Raghu, the elephant who literally wiped her tears when her daughter died. After a tiger killed her husband, she feared looking at the animal. It would remind her of that wretched day. Living in the forests became nightmarish. Life was tough. But when Raghu and Ammu came in her life and when she found love again in Bomman, she was able to collect her broken pieces. Bellie becomes an example to others. She understands that only love can heal her.  

In The Elephant Whisperers, empathy, care and love become a big movement. In a time when the society is driven by hate and divisions, it also says that we can all co-exist without hurting each other. 

The documentary also underlines a very important but forgotten truth that has gone missing. That the forest belongs to the animals and tribals more than anyone else. Remember, not humans. But tribals. While telling their story, the makers feel important to not blur their identity.  

In a very different film from last year, Bhediya, Amar Kaushik brought tears in eyes when he took us to the top of a hill from where the wild forest looks serene, peaceful and beautiful. Two Bhediyas (wolves) talk to us about love and affection in the climax. In The Elephant Whisperers, Kartiki Gonsalves, does a better job of saying the same thing because she is holding a clearer mirror to the audience, talking about a real story, real people and real animals while being on top of her craft.

This further underlines the importance of documentaries, especially in our country where fiction cannot alone carry the weight of all of our stories. Like veteran journalist Mark Tully once wrote in his book – ‘There are no full stops in India’. There are so many stories around us that we need more and more storytellers today and many more ways to tell them.  

The Elephant Whisperers is a must-watch and those behind it should be lauded for their efforts, time and money. Creativity opens our hearts and the line stands true for this documentary, which is quite an eye-opening account of forests and its residents even if by the end, the same eyes are a little moist.

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