The First-Ever Documentary from India to Win an Oscar is…

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Anyone setting foot in India knows that the country offers a rich tapestry of perfect documentary film fodder. Wildly interesting flora, fauna, and people are guaranteed sights. Any film-maker can find an infinite selection for potential non-fiction storyboards weaving together at once the ancient and the high-tech, the natural and the man-made, and every shade in the rainbows of joy and sorrow. This awards season, we finally saw The Elephant Whisperers directed by millennial Kartiki Gonsalves break through and make history as the first Indian documentary to ever win an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film. Deservingly so. This particular movie is fantastic, and manages to uniquely capture the essence of South India in one film.

via Netflix

The elephant happens to be my favorite animal, and an enigma. The largest land mammal can be the most gentle beast you’ll ever find, or the most dangerous. An elephant might let you ride it all day, or mercilessly trample you and your family underfoot in one instant while running amok through the village. Better then, that we leave elephant husbandry in the hands of the trained few. In India there still exists a rare class of expert professionals known as Mahouts who for centuries have served as human ambassadors to the realm of pachyderms, whose traditions have likely changed little over that time. Their charge is taking care of the wild beasts and nursing them back to health from injury in the case of the main characters of The Elephant Whisperers. This whispering work is harder than it might be for other animals that are more conducive to domestication.

If you’ve ever wondered what life on a South Indian elephant sanctuary is life, look no further than The Elephant Whisperers. It looks like great fun but hard work, full of heartbreak and also inspiration. Shot in the Theppakadu Elephant Camp inside the Mudumulai Tiger Reserve in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the humans profiled in the movie Bomman and Belli consider the young elephants under their care to be part of the family, with names and all. Indeed, Raghu, Ammu and other elephants of all ages depicted have very distinct personalities and proclivities. It’s all a great joy to watch the majesty of these gorgeous animals, their interplay with the humans, and the lush Tamil Nadu background scenery on display- all with English subtitles for those not versed in Tamil.

Throughout the movie is the universal theme of love- the love between man and beast, the love between the elephants, and also between the humans involved, brought together by their common interest in nursing elephants back to health as both job and way of life. There is no other documentary like The Elephant Whisperers. It is a must watch, and can be found on Netflix right now. If you’re like me, you might easily see it twice. Watch the trailer here:


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