Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves on making ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ and his passion for documenting wildlife

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Kartiki Gonsalves
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Kartiki Gonsalves Photo credit: Special Arrangements

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Karthike Gonsalves’ directorial debut The Elephant Whisperers is one of the three Indian films. Nominated for the 95th Academy Awards. Nominated for Best Documentary Short, the 41-minute film chronicles the bond that Bowman and Bailey, a South Indian couple, share with Raghu, an orphaned elephant.

For Kartiki, the journey to document Raghu began about six years ago when he saw Boman taking him to a stream for his bath. Seeing Kartiki from his car, Bowman motions for him to join them. The Oscar-nominated director recalls seeing Raghu spinning and splashing himself with water. “Raghu loves water like I’ve never seen before,” Kartiki said on a Zoom call. He soon developed a special bond with the orphaned elephant and credited his love for the film’s concept. “I see that Raghav is like Boman’s son. He wraps his trunk around Boman’s hand and follows him everywhere.

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A still from the documentary

A still from the documentary Photo credit: Netflix

His fascination for Boman and Raghav’s bond led to the making of the documentary.

The documentary also served as a learning curve for the director, who claims to have learned everything she knows about elephants only after meeting Raghav. Kartiki met the Asian elephant after its mother was electrocuted when she went to a nearby village in search of food and water during a prolonged drought in the region. At a time when the Asian elephant’s habitat is shrinking rapidly due to encroachment and climate change, she wanted to focus on pockets of positive stories.

“The highlight of the story is the extraordinary family dynamic that Bowman and Bailey share with Raghav.” His motivation to translate Raghu’s story for the screen came from wanting people to understand elephants on a deeper level by recognizing their intelligence. And his motivation was only fueled by his desire to give indigenous peoples a voice and demonstrate their importance in conservation efforts.

Bowman and Raghav in a still from 'The Elephant Whisperers'

Boman and Raghav in a still from ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ Photo credit: Netflix

She admits it was a conscious choice to let Bowman and Bailey narrate the documentary and believes it ultimately worked in the film’s favor because the audience could relate to the story. Karthiki is not a fan of people speaking on behalf of the local community as she insists that it is up to them to share their stories, knowledge and wisdom. “When someone else comes to you and describes it, you lose that emotional connection,” she says. Karthiki admits that she finds it difficult to connect with the subjects of her documentaries when she is not emotionally involved in them. “This [documentary] It was a test for me to see if this method of storytelling could reach people on a different level and connect them with people and subjects they had not seen before. If I had made a documentary on Asian elephants without Bowman and Bailey, would it have had the same effect? she thinks out loud.

Born into a family of nature lovers and explorers, Kartiki was introduced to nature when she could walk and camped in the forest when she was barely 18 months old. Since then, she has returned to forests, wildlife and the communities that inhabit them in an effort to document them. With a post-graduation in professional photography and specialization in nature, wildlife and culture, he started out as a photojournalist but soon realized that it was difficult to sustain and so learned and experimented with filmmaking. proceeded to do, which she claims. Powerful when it comes to making an impact.

Before starting work on her Oscar-nominated project, she was part of the camera crews for Discovery and Animal Planet. On the brink where he helped document conservation efforts by researchers and scientists to save the Asiatic black bear from extinction. “My conservation philosophy is that humanitarianism transcends diversity and unites us all for an environmental cause. This made documentary filmmaking an obvious choice. He approaches his work with a sense of environmental responsibility and discusses solutions. It wants to focus on creating platforms to scale up successful conservation efforts.

Filming the documentary at a time when women directors are few and far between and Karthik admits that going with permission was a difficult part. However, she is hopeful that the efforts of directors like her will help pave a path for women in the future.

A still from 'The Elephant Whisperers'

A still from ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ Photo credit: Netflix

The Academy Award-nominated director said that during the documentary’s conception and production, he had no intention of being part of the Oscar race, but thanks to a last-minute decision, he is now one step away from winning the award. are away Their hands on the coveted statue.

Karthiki, who is still in touch with the couple, shares that Bowman and Bailey are excited to be in the news and meet new people every day. Fan art from all over the world is also delivered to their homes by a government official.

She occasionally stops by the couple’s house for a cup of tea and a quick chat. “The last time I spoke to her, Bailey was in tears. She is so happy that people are appreciating her and her relationship with Raghu.

The Elephant Whisperers produced by Ganeet Monga and Achan Jain under the banner of Sukhya Entertainment is currently streaming on Netflix.

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