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For Every Animal Lover: Elephant Whisperers

When Raghu, a baby elephant steals your heart

Documentaries don't usually interest me, but this one was beautiful. I was completely mesmerized by this simply narrated story of a baby elephant who is brought up and nurtured by two humans. Let’s not just be dog lovers, I decided after watching this forty-minute documentary directed by Kartiki Gonsalves. It won the best short documentary film at the 95th Oscar Awards. The recipients included director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga.  

The Elephant Whisperers makes you fall in love with the cute elephant Raghu and the indigenous couple Bomman and Bellie. Raghu, a baby elephant abandoned by his herd in the mudumalai National Park, has been entrusted to their care when he is just an infant. Bomman and Bellie, living ordinary, uneventful lives, suddenly find themselves parents of a baby elephant. The couple go to tremendous lengths to make sure the weak baby survives and matures into a healthy adolescent. The couple and the elephant bond strongly and share a close relationship.

In an interview, Kartiki, the director, revealed that the Mudumalai National Park was close to her home, and she was greatly touched by the story of a human couple who adopt a baby elephant and bring him up like their own precious child. The national park has been witness to innumerable stories about animals being killed or dying but this positive story about a man and an animal working together, grabbed her attention and she decided to make a documentary on this subject. To create this documentary, Kartiki Gonsalves followed a human-elephant hybrid family who belonged to the Kattunayakan tribe for five years. She says, “When he was exactly three months old. I spent about a year and a half with him when he was a tiny baby before this became a documentary.” Her crew also took pictures of other animals living in the reserve while making the documentary, including tigers, lions, and monkeys.

Bellie’s story is moving as first she lost her husband to a leopard attack and then she lost her daughter for unknown reasons. So, caring for Raghu filled the void left by the loss of her loved ones. She is now training her granddaughter, who will serve as a prodigy, to take care of the elephants. She says, “I feel I am his mother. Everything about him is like a human, except that he cannot talk. Losing a child is devastating. Whenever I cried Raghu wiped my tears with his trunk”. Taking care of Raghu is Bomman’s first baby step towards carrying on the work of his grandfather and father. Bomman had been hurt by an adult tusker elephant before, so the Forest Department put him in charge of the younger elephants. This couple, who had seen tragedy and difficulties in life, bonded even while they cared for Raghu and finally get married. The documentary walks the reader through their growing attachment and their marriage which is a simple and sweet ceremony witnessed by other forest workers and Raghu. I believe that it’s the mutual bond of love they share for the elephants that brought them together.

We also get to have a close look at how kind these cute giants are and the risks they face in the modern world. Modernization and changes in how people act in the area have made it much more dangerous for elephant groups and elephants that can't go back to their herd. The story then goes back in time to show how Raghu lost his parents when he got split from the elephant group. Later, we see the couple take care of Ammu, another elephant who was left alone by his parents. When Raghu’s care is turned over to another guardian, the video ends on a sad note.  The documentary also emphasizes the area’s stunning natural surroundings, which is located in the Mudumalai National Park on the boundary of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states in India. I was amazed how these indigenous people live in peace and harmony with the nature.

What makes The Elephant Whisperers different from other documentaries is that it wasn't just a narration of facts but also a heartwarming story about a bond between an animal and a person and a shining example of how we can continue to live together. One learns so much about how there are people working devotedly to conserve the forests that are being torn down by the Dons of modernization and how natives are doing their best to redress the wrongs done to animals due to this quick pace of modernization. It is hoped that the documentary will encourage other filmmakers to shed light on the countless unsung heroes who are quietly doing excellent work behind the scenes. You just cannot miss this documentary. I would rate this as 9 out of 10 definitely!


Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Guru Nanak Khalsa College Yamunanagar. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.

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