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Sound the Trumpets: The Elephant Whisperers

March 20, 2023 | By

Netflix’s The Elephant Whisperers won the Oscar for 2023 in the Best Documentary Short Film category at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Aaria Patel reviews the award-winning film.


The Elephant Whisperers

Bomman with Raghu (Still from The Elephant Whisperers)

At the 95th Academy Awards this year, producer Guneet Monga triumphantly declared, “Tonight is historic as this is the first ever Oscar for an Indian production.”

This was great news to me, a 12th Std Media student and a matter of personal pride. Although The Elephant Whisperers did not need an Oscar to validate it, now the family bond shared by Bomman, Bellie and two elephants, Raghu and Ammu has touched the world.

Although this documentary may have been scripted, it never felt rehearsed. The story is natural and the authenticity comes from the director’s sincerity and editorial choices. I did not notice any gratuitous scenes, deliberate twists or drama. What I recognised is how the camera spoke in the language of pictures.

The film has magnificent long shots of the vast location, appealing close ups of the animals as well as the indigenous couple Bomman and Bellie and detail shots to further connect us with what we might otherwise miss. The lighting in the film is natural — early morning mists, the blazing sun of the day and a blanket of night when a bonfire glows. The metronome is slow and peaceful and the music by Sven Faulconer underscores the key notes of the film- gentleness and compassion.

The first scene shows Bomman lovingly calling to Raghu while opening the door of a dark room. We then see a detailed shot of Raghu’s sleepy eye. This is his star moment.

When Bomman puts his umbrella above Raghu’s head to shield Raghu from the rain it is hilarious because that small umbrella cannot protect the large Raghu from even a drop. At the same time, this moment is heart-warming as we see the fatherly love Bomman has for his ward. It is instinctive for Bomman to use the umbrella in the same way a parent might.

The human couple bathe, feed and play with the elephants. They tend to them as they would their own children. They even worship and respect the elephants as Gods. When Raghu is taken away by the forest officials, Bomman, Bellie and even Ammu do not eat for three days. We can imagine that Ammu feels she has lost her only friend or elder sibling and the human couple feel their child is torn away from them.

The elephants respond to all this love and attention. Raghu does not mind his mouth being washed out and enjoys a game of football with Bomman. When Bellie is devastated by the death of her own daughter Raghu’s trunk wipes Bellie’s tears.

The Elephant Whisperers

Bellie with Ammu (Still from The Elephant Whisperers)

Almost all the animal documentaries I have watched concern the harsh facts of animal killing, poaching, experimentation and torture. There is also gruesome footage of predators, natural calamities and pollution that helpless animals endure. Such films hopefully encourage awareness and enable change but often rely on distressing images. While The Elephant Whisperers for the most is aesthetically pleasing, there is a shot of a massive elephant carcass shrivelled in the scorching heat. This tells us that the director and editors do not believe in concealing an unpleasant truth even as they dwell on other facts.

The human characters in the film live poor lives but we realise that they are more than content with what they have. They are full of generosity and selflessly give to what they believe is their cause. The Elephant Whisperers teaches us the importance of our responsibility to the earth and all its interdependent living creatures.

What makes this story unique is its sense of continuum.

The Elephant Whisperers | Official Trailer

 Oscar 2023 for The Elephant Whisperers

Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga receive the Oscar for The Elephant Whisperers in the Best Documentary Short Film category at the 95th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, held March 13, 2023. (Pic courtesy: India Today)

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Creative Writing

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Aaria is an A levels student at MET Rishikul Vidhyalaya, Mumbai. She has a passion for watching and making films. She wants to pursue a career in film making. She may be contacted at [email protected].
All Posts of Aaria Patel

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