​Oscar-winning documentary short The Elephant Whisperers - Two women created this magic

Mar 13, 2023

By: Srishti Magan

​A happy Monday morning​

It was a happy Monday morning for the country as two Indian films, RRR and The Elephant Whisperers, won an Oscar for Best Song and Best Documentary Short, respectively. However, India’s other entry, All That Breathes, lost to Navalny in the Best Documentary Feature category.

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​Congratulations pour in for The Elephant Whisperers​

The industry and the public came together to celebrate the wins. PM Narendra Modi showered praise on the Oscar winners, tweeting that the popularity of RRR’s Naatu Naatu was global, and The Elephant Whisperers highlighted “the importance of sustainable development”.

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​“Two women did this”

“Two women did this! I’m still shivering” tweeted The Elephant Whisperers’ producer Guneet Monga. The film marks Kartiki Gonsalves’ directorial debut. This is Monga’s second Oscar - she also co-produced the 2018 winner, Period. End of Sentence.

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The short documentary that won big

Produced by Sikhya Entertainment, The Elephant Whisperers is the first film by an Indian production house to win an Oscar. Here’s everything to know about the film that artfully depicts the beautiful bond between animals and humans:

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​What’s the documentary about?​

Bomman and Belli are a tribal couple belonging to the indigenous Kattunayakan tribe, who raise orphaned children - not of humans but elephants. The film follows their journey of raising the elephant calf, Raghu, whose mother is electrocuted at a fence surrounding a village. Later, another calf, Ammu joins their family.

Credit: Twitter/Netflix

​Shot in a location straight out of a fairytale​

The film was shot at the Theppakadu Elephant camp within the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in southern India. A must-visit tourist attraction, the cinematography brilliantly captures the film’s beautiful and natural setting.

Credit: Netflix

​When you shoot in a jungle, the jump scares are literal​

Gonsalves and her team photographed the jungle and its inhabitants, including leopards, tigers, and monkeys. At one time, an elephant tried charging at the crew and the “camera guy jumped onto the bonnet [hood] with the camera”, shared Gonsalves in an interview with Deadline.

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​Five years to make the 39-minute film​

Gonsalves spent five years making the film. She has said that she first met Raghu when he was only three months old.

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​Elephants don’t mean us harm​

Gonsalves shared that she made the movie to help people “understand elephants, that they are very similar [to us] and they don’t mean harm in any way.”

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​Showcasing a different India to the world​

For the longest time, the Indian movies popularised outside of India focused on poverty, urban cities or period dramas. But The Elephant Whisperers highlights the beauty of Indian culture, its rich heritage and its abundant beauty in an honest and uplifting manner.

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Where to watch the film?

After its world premiere at the DOC NYC Film Festival – a film festival for documentaries in the United States, The Elephant Whisperers was released on Netflix in December 2022. It’s still available on the platform.

Credit: Netflix

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