The Elephant Whisperers (2022): In the middle of a climate crisis, we as humans constantly refuse to unmount the high horse of superiority as a species or work in tandem with nature to fight this crisis. Humans are selfish and share a sinister relationship with the environment that sustains them. In Bellie’s tale to her granddaughter, three men perceive an elephant in three different ways, focusing on its body parts that would earn them money if traded. Director Kartiki Gonsalves’ documentary short focuses on two people who are an exception to this rule, Bellie, and Bomman.

In the Theppakadu Elephant Camp, one of the oldest elephant camps in Asia, built around 140 years ago, Bomman lives and thrives. He calls himself the Kattunayakan, the jungle king, and is married to Bellie, the only woman assigned to work with baby elephants in Tamil Nadu. Together, they belong to the indigenous community living in that area and are responsible for caring for Raghu and Ammu, two young and orphaned elephants. This 41-minute-long documentary traces their daily routines, interactions with the elephants, and their experience in taking care of them.

The Elephant Whisperers

Gonsalves begins his short by showing us a slice of how vast and majestic this place is, lapped in nature’s bounty. It looks like a Nat Geo documentary from the number of close-ups of several animals we see on screen, from hooting birds to tigers. Of course, there are elephants too. It also consists of a few real-time clips of Raghu from the archives when it had wandered into human territory with his mother during a drought in his childhood. In this documentary, we see Raghu frolicking with water, playing with the bell tied around his neck, responding to Bomman’s calls, etc. One of my favorite parts of this documentary short is also the focus on monkeys, which seems to form a narrative break and some comic relief.

However, the relationship shared between the elephants and Bomman – Bellie is beautifully portrayed here. In one scene, Bomman is seen cuddling the elephant and addressing Raghu as if he were a child. In another scene, Bellie is feeding Raghu, who doesn’t want to eat the millet and is only greedy for the coconut. Bellie also confesses in the course of the documentary that elephants are no different from human babies with the amount of care and affection they require, except they cannot express themselves in words. She also goes on to say that when she has felt sad, Raghu fondled her affectionately with his trunk. In another of my favorite scenes, Raghu and Ammu are just seen tagging along with the couple as part of their wedding pictures. When we hear how Raghu got assigned a different caregiver, we feel as sad as the tearful Bomman. The delicacy of this bond shared between the humans and the elephants is the highlight of Gonsalves’ work, and it is a heartwarming experience.

Gonsalves also sheds light on the housing and life of the indigenous community that Bomman and Bellie belong to. They depend on the land to sustain themselves but do not overuse the available resource. The little cultural detail about how all the elephants cared for by this community are decked up in colors and lined up for a special Ganesh puja help give us a holistic vision of this community and its culture itself. Soft, meditative music accompanies the narration, helping us transcend momentarily into a world of peaceful coexistence.

If you have watched Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) as a child, this documentary can be your follow-up exercise in falling in love with the elephant language again. Kartiki Gonsalves’ short documentary is sweet and succinct; the runtime is long enough to charm you. Etched at the backdrop of the rural Tamil Nadu landscape, the silhouette of the elephants comes across as a humbling reminder of the wild, untamed nature that lies just beyond the rigid lines of human civilization. You can watch The Elephant Whisperers on Netflix now!

Related: Paradise (2022) ‘IDFA’ Review – A Gorgeously Shot Documentary on Climate Change Induced Wildfires in Siberia

Watch The Elephant Whisperers Official Trailer

The Elephant Whisperers (2022) Short Movie Links: IMDb
Where to watch The Elephant Whisperers

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