Bombay Times Exclusive
The Elephant Whisperers, a Tamil language documentary short, directed by documentary filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, created history at the 95th Oscars by becoming the first Indian film produced by an Indian production to win an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Short Film category.
The heartwarming documentary follows an ageing couple – Bomman and Bellie — in South India, who foster orphaned elephants. The film shows how they co-exist with nature and share their space and home with lost elephants, who they raise as their own children.
Overwhelmed with joy, and now back in India, Guneet Monga exclusively spoke to
Bombay Times after the massive victory. Excerpts..
We are sure you are over the moon. What did it feel like to stand on stage at the Oscars and
receive the award for The Elephant Whisperers?
It will take time for all this to sink in. It feels like a beginning of a new chapter for Indian cinema. This is the first Oscar for an Indian production. My team and I are thrilled to have represented India on a global stage. We are grateful for all the love that this story of indigenous people, an orphan baby elephant Raghu and the caretakers Bommon and Bellie, have received. This documentary touched the hearts of audiences worldwide. It’s a huge honour for us and I dedicate this award to our beautifully diverse country, India. I am glad to be able to serve this vision of bringing women filmmakers to the forefront while winning nothing short of an Oscar.
You were overwhelmed with emotion heading onto the stage to receive the Oscar. Unfortunately, your speech was cut off by the orchestra, keeping with the 45-second rule for acceptance speeches. You could barely speak a word. Was that disheartening?
I am extremely disheartened that my speech was cut off. There was a shock on my face. I just wanted to say it’s India’s first Oscar in Indian production, which is such a huge thing. My heart started racing as I couldn’t have come so far and not be heard. Western media is pulling up The Academy that I did not get to speak. People are so offended that I did not get the chance to deliver my speech. There are videos and tweets online expressing disappointment that I couldn’t get to speak. This was India’s moment taken away from me. But then, I thought it’s okay, I’ll come back here and I will make sure I’m heard. I have got multiple opportunities to share my thoughts and it’s heartening to receive all the love. So a little empathy can go a long way here.
The live performance on the song Naatu Naatu from RRR, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song, was electrifying. What was it like to witness that as an audience?
It was majestic to witness the live performance of Naatu Naatu and watch the song win an Oscar for India. I was almost dancing in my chair and I’m proud that we could share this moment and global stage with SS Rajamouli sir, MM Keeravani, Chandrabose, Ram Charan and Jr NTR. I’d also like to mention that I’m proud of Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. The film may not have won, but Shaunak is one of the most promising filmmakers to look out for from India. All three nominations made 2023 a glorious year for India at the Oscars.
Any star-struck moments or speeches that
inspired you the most?
I am in awe of Michelle Yeoh’s speech (who won
the Best Actress award), especially when she said, “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you that you are past your prime.” I think she spoke for every woman in the world.