ACADEMY AWARD DOCUMENTARY SHORT NOMINEE! Directed by Kartiki Gonsalves, The Elephant Whisperers is a short documentary revolving around Bomman and Bellie, elephant caregivers at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp in Asia. Bomman and Bellie are living a life of tranquility and clarity, bonding with elephants and participating in a harmonious relationship with nature.
Gonsalves initially zones in on the surrounding environment of Tamil Nadu, the reposeful South Indian village where the film takes place. The town is surrounded by long stretches of trees, small bodies of water, tigers, monkeys, birds, and, of course, elephants. Here, everyone and everything co-exists. Yielding close-ups of the various species that occupy the land, the filmmaker addresses the beauty of the natural world and the pleasure of seeing it unspoiled by humans, even though, in this case, humans do live among it. But Bomman and Bellie respect the land they walk on and the life surrounding them.
The elephant whisperers are entrusted with looking after Raghu, an elephant calf left behind by his herd. Everyone thought Raghu would not make it, but the duo kept up with its recovery and would take care of him for years to come. They tried to reunite the young elephant with his herd, but that never panned out. So, naturally, Raghu became part of their family.
“…Bomman and Bellie, elephant caregivers at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp…”
The Elephant Whisperers spotlights giddy, heartwarming moments between the three of them. Raghu playfully rejects the millet and would rather have a coconut. Bellie reacts frustratingly like a mother talking to her son. Later, Bomman and Bellie are entrusted with another infant elephant, Ammu, and Raghu becomes jealous. These immensely tender and adorable moments will put a smile on your face.
Gonsalves reminds us of how emotionally responsive animals can be to humans in times of distress. For Bellie, nurturing elephants back to health helps her heal from the pain of having lost a child. She remembers vividly Raghu tugging at her clothes as if he were a child, and she instantly felt and embraced his love. The elephant’s small gesture shows that animals are capable of empathy and warmth, momentarily filling any gaping hole of sadness. For Bomman, being an elephant caregiver is a family tradition. Bomman and Bellie are selfless, softhearted, and inspiring people who recognize the emotional capacity and intelligence of elephants, as well as their ability to give as much as they receive.
The director really gets to the heart of compassion, devotion, and the virtues of caring for animals and nature. Bomman and Bellie claim that baby elephants are not too different from human babies in requiring a lot of attention, care, and space. The filmmaker validates this claim by compiling scenes of Bomman bathing the elephant, Bellie feeding the elephant, and graceful aerial shots of the elephants freely wandering around.
Gonsalves pleasantly films the day-to-day lives of Bomman, Bellie, Raghu, and Ammu as they create unlikely bonds and long-lasting memories. “I cannot imagine a life without elephants,” says Bomman. After watching The Elephant Whisperers, the exquisitely crafted and uplifting documentary about the enduring connections forged between elephants and people, I, too, can’t imagine a world without them.
"…exquisitely crafted and uplifting..."