The Elephant Whisperers marks the documentary debut of Kartiki Gonsalves. The 39-minute film won the Oscar in 2023 for the Best Documentary Short Film. During her acceptance speech, she said:

“I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and our natural world, for the respect of indigenous communities, and empathy towards other living beings we share space with and finally, for coexistence.”

Bellie with Raghu

Bomman and Bellie belong to the Kattunayakar community living in the Theppakadu Elephant Camp in Tamil Nadu, South India; the community has a long history of taking care of elephants. When Raghu, a three-month-old elephant calf is abandoned by his herd after his mother is killed, the couple assume the care of the baby. They have to nurse him back to health and gain his trust. They succeed and become a family in every sense of that term.

Bomman and Bellie on their wedding day with Raghu and Ammu

The filmmakers shot over 450 hours of footage of their interactions. We watch Bomman and Bellie feeding, bathing, and playing with Raghu in the forest. They talk about how much he means to them and how he has helped them heal from losses and become closer to each other. It soon becomes clear that this animal-human bond is strong and characterized by the expression of emotions by all of them. When a young elephant, Ammu, comes to live with this family, now adolescent Raghu even becomes jealous.

The Elephant Whisperers fulfils the filmmaker’s intention, shared with NPR, for “the audience to stop seeing animals as the ‘other’ and start seeing them as one of us.”