Months after The Elephant Whisperers won Oscar at the 2023 Academy Awards, the mahout couple Bomman and Bellie, whose lives were shown in the documentary about their unique bond with elephants and conservation, have alleged financial exploitation and neglect against the makers of the documentary. The couple has alleged that they spent a large sum during the making of the docu-film but the makers failed to remunerate. They also alleged that the makers have ignored their calls ever after Oscar win. Now, the couple is seeking Rs. 2 crore as a goodwill gesture from the makers.
A copy of the legal notice was obtained by PTI which stated that the couple was allegedly promised “a house, an all-terrain multi-purpose vehicle, and a lump sum one-time payment as financial support based on the income generated by the project.”
Chennai-based social activist Pravin Raj, a lawyer by profession, said, “Both Bomman and Bellie are disappointed with Gonsalves, who had promised them monetary help as well as help with the education of Bellie’s granddaughter while making the film. But she now refuses to give even a fraction of the enormous profits made by the film.” He also said that the couple followed the filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves around during promotions in the hope that if the project does well, all of them will do well together. However, Raj said, “Instead, Gonsalves is not even picking up the phone when Bomman calls.”
Advocate Mohammed Mansoor is handling the case on behalf of Bomman and Bellie and said that they received a response from Sikhya Entertainment Pvt Ltd, on behalf of Gonsalves. “In that, she has flatly refused any more help stating that she has already given money to the couple. I will be sending her a rejoinder in a couple of days after consulting with my clients,” said Mansoor.
Sikhya Entertainment Pvt Ltd issued a statement to PTI which read, “The goal in creating ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ has always been to highlight elephant conservation, the tremendous efforts of the forest department and its mahouts Bomman and Bellie. Since its launch, the documentary has raised awareness of the cause and had a real impact on the mahouts and cavadis community. Chief minister of Tamil Nadu M K Stalin has made donations towards assisting the 91 mahouts and cavadis who look after the state’s elephants, constructing eco-friendly houses for the caretakers and developing an elephant camp in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. The documentary has been celebrated by heads of state across India, and the Academy Award is a moment of national pride that has brought widespread recognition for the work of mahouts like Bomman and Bellie. All claims made are untrue. We have deep respect for all of the contributors of this story, and remain driven by the desire to create positive change.”
The Elephant Whisperers is a heartwarming story of an indigenous couple who have been given an orphaned elephant, Raghu to look after. The story follows the couple’s journey as they relentlessly work to ensure Raghu’s recovery and survival. The short documentary beautifully stitches the tale of how the couple falls in love with the majestic creature over the course of time. Set against the background of life in the wild spaces of South India The Elephant Whisperers highlights the beauty of exotic wildlife, unforgettable wild spaces, and the people and animals who share this space.