Kartiki Gonsalves, Guneet Monga's 'The Elephant Whisperers' is a great achievement for women filmmakers: World Elephant Day founder

14 March,2023 08:52 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nascimento Pinto

Indian filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga won the Oscar for the ‘Best Documentary Short Film’ this year. Mid-day Online spoke to Patricia Sims, Canadian documentary filmmaker and founder of World Elephant Day to share what this achievement means for the pachyderm

Indian filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga won the Oscar for the `Best Documentary Short Film` for `The Elephant Whisperers`. Photo Courtesy: Netflix/AFP

If you haven*t already watched ‘The Elephant Whisperers*, then it should be done right away because the visuals and storytelling are a pure marvel. Amid colourful shots of wildlife in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, it showcases the relationship between tribals Bomman and Bellie, and Raghu, the baby elephant; they take care of along with Ammu, who joins them later, to give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

Made by Indian filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, the film won the ‘Best Documentary Short Film* at the Oscars 2023. It was one of the two Oscars for India on the day with the other being the viral song ‘Naatu Naatu* that won for the ‘Best Original Song*.

Mid-day Online spoke to Patricia Sims, a fellow award-winning Canadian filmmaker like Gonsalves, and founder of World Elephant Day, who has worked closely with elephants and their conservation to understand what the win means for the mammals. Sims has made two films, ‘Return To The Forest* in 2012, and ‘When Elephants Were Young* in 2016, the latter of which was about mahouts and elephants in Thailand. She says it is not only a win for the pachyderms but also for women filmmakers and India.

Here are the edited excerpts:

Having won awards and made a film like *When Elephants Were Young*, how do you feel about India*s win at the Oscars 2023 for *The Elephant Whisperers*?
It*s fantastic that ‘The Elephant Whisperers* won Best Documentary Short Film at the Oscars 2023. I*m very proud of Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga. Their film is a great achievement for women filmmakers, for India, and also for elephants.

‘The Elephant Whisperers* sensitively portrays the familial and loving relationship that Indian mahouts have with elephants in their care and demonstrates the beauty and complexity of this bond. It*s very similar to the relationship between mahouts and elephants in Thailand that we portrayed in our film ‘When Elephants Were Young* - both these films demonstrate the deeply rooted connection that exists between humans and elephants in Asia.

Gonsalves is one like yourself who uses films to raise awareness about nature, wildlife and the importance of conservation. What role do you think a visual film plays in raising awareness about conservation of elephants, and other animals?
Films always play a very important role in raising awareness about conservation issues because they show the dynamic interrelationships between humans and wildlife. Documentary films capture these moments and touch audiences on emotional and creative levels that inspire new perspectives and a call to action.

This film celebrates the bond between humans and animals, one that is often missed out on when talking about wildlife. Do you believe this film on such a huge stage will steer people in the right direction?
It*s important to recognise that even though elephants, and particularly Asian elephants, live with humans in captive circumstances, they are not domesticated animals, they are not pets - they are wild animals in captivity.

Sadly, many elephants living in captivity are in difficult and abusive situations that are not healthy for them. Although captivity is not ideal for elephants, ‘The Elephant Whisperers* portrays that even though in captivity, elephants must be well cared for and treated with respect, love, and dignity that they deserve.

Elephants are very intelligent, sensitive creatures, they have strong emotional bonds, and are very social. Elephants play a very important role in the health of ecosystems as a keystone species in their habitats. For wild Asian elephants, the increasing loss of their habitat is putting them into closer proximity with humans. Therefore, humans have to learn how to live harmoniously with elephants, whether in the wild or captivity.

Asian elephants are an endangered species and India has the largest number of wild Asian elephants left on the planet, which is why we have to nourish and protect them and their habitats to ensure their survival. This film is a great inspiration for the importance of positive human-elephant relationships in India, and worldwide.

Also Read: Oscars 2023: Deepika Padukone gives glowing introduction to *RRR* song *Naatu Naatu* ahead of live performance; watch

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