PeepingMoon Exclusive: The Elephant Whisperers cinematographer Anand Bansal talks about Oscars win, says shooting for 5-6 years was a humbling experience


Kartiki Gonsalves' directorial debut, The Elephant Whisperers, won the Best Documentary Short Film award at the 95th Academy Awards held on Sunday (Monday in India) in Los Angeles. Backed by Guneet Monga, the 40-minute documentary was set in Mudumalai National Park and focuses on the lives of Bomman and Bellie who devote their lives to care for an orphaned baby elephant named Raghu.

The Elephant Whisperers became the first film by an Indian production to win an Oscar, as expressed by Guneet. Post the big win, spoke to the cinematographer of the documentary, Anand Bansal. Talking to us, he opened up about shooting the documentary, understanding wildlife and why is the short film relevant today.

Excerpts from the interview: 

The Elephant Whisperers won an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short Film category. What was your first reaction when it was announced?

I was thrilled and elated because when you are making a project, you never think about such things. I’m still processing it and it is overwhelming.

How did you come on board?

The film was shot for about 5-6 years before Netflix got on board. I got introduced to Kartiki (director) through a friend. Post that, we sat down, had a chat, and then the film got materialised.

Wildlife can be unpredictable. What were the challenges you encountered while working on The Elephant Whisperers?

More than challenging, it is important to understand how to behave in front of an elephant or any animal. The elephants shown in the film are pretty young and are treated like children. The only challenge we faced was to make them feel comfortable while shooting. At the end of the day, it was an enriching experience.

Cinematography plays an important role in communicating a message and a story. What was your approach towards the film?

We had a clear vision as to what we wanted. The idea was, to be honest with the story and the vision Kartiki had in her mind.

According to you, why is The Elephant Whisperers an important and relevant film?

For me, The Elephant Whisperers made me realise the simplicity and humbleness of a parent-child relationship. It is very humbling to witness Bellie and Bomman’s (caretakers) love for the elephants. I don’t know how much of that people could see in the film but it was definitely humbling for me.

Will this Oscars win give more confidence to budding cinematographers and filmmakers to explore something new and different?

It will be a great push. I feel it will be heartening to see documentary filmmakers in India get backing. There are honest filmmakers with a voice but they don't get enough chances. Hoping that this win changes it. This should be a great push for everyone. 

You graduated from Whistling Woods, a renowned film school. Did that give a boost to your career?

I came from a background where I had no idea about filmmaking but after taking formal training, it did teach me how to work on a set and taught me the importance of a collaborative working environment.

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