It won Best Documentary Short film at the 95th Academy Awards, beating contenders like Stranger at the Gate and How do you Measure a Year?
The documentary tells the story of an indigenous couple named Bomman and Bellie as they care for an orphaned baby elephant.
The film explores the precious bond between the animal and his caretakers.
In her acceptance speech, director Kartiki Gonsalves said, “I stand here today to speak of 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, coexistence.”
Producer Guneet Monga shared the news of the win with an Instagram post: “Tonight is historic as this is the first ever Oscar for an Indian production. India’s Glory with 2 women.”
The Elephant Whisperers is the first Indian film to win an Oscar in this category. Two other films nominated in the Best Documentary Short category in the past – The House That Ananda Built in 1969 and An Encounter With Faces in 1979 – failed to get the trophy.
Shot in the Theppakadu Elephant Camp inside the Mudumulai Tiger Reserve in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, The Elephant Whisperers follows Bomman and Bellie as they care for Raghu, an injured baby elephant who gets separated from his herd. Later, Belli is also given the responsibility to care for Ammu, a female elephant calf.
The couple belong to the Kattunayakan community, a tribal group that has been protecting the forest for generations.
Once they begin living together as a family, the humans and animals forge a close bond.
When Raghu reaches adolescence, the state’s forest department takes him away and places him with another caretaker who is more experienced in handling elephants in this life stage. The couple are heartbroken and miss Raghu deeply.
The documentary is permeated with moving scenes that capture the love and devotion the elephants and their human caretakers have for each other. In one scene, baby elephant Ammu wipes away Bellie’s tears when she breaks down over Raghu’s separation.
Reacting to the Oscar win, Bomman told BBC Tamil that though they were happy about the award, “we are sad that Raghu is not with us now”.
The Oscar for the heart-warming story is being celebrated by many Indians who have taken to twitter to praise the documentary.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the film “wonderfully highlights the importance of sustainable development and living in harmony with nature”.
MP and senior leader of the opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi congratulated Ms Gonsalves and Ms Monga. “These two women have made India proud with their heart-warming showcase of the beauty and importance of wildlife conservation,” he tweeted.