With RRR, All That Breathes, Elephant Whisperers, Will India Triumph; The Question on Everyone’s Lips
It is time for the Oscars! The prestigious Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday night (or early Monday morning IST), and India is truly in the race with three entries. The dance track, Naatu Naatu from the Telugu film RRR, and two documentaries, All That Breathes and Elephant Whisperers. There are good chances that our country would return from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre with an Oscar. I certainly feel that the two documentaries are sensitively created, and talk about very novel subjects.
All That Breathes is about two brothers from a lower middle-class Delhi locality; their mission is to save kites from the city’s terrible pollution. Mohammed Saud and Nadeem Shehzad, treat and help sick kites to fly again. These two are helped by an employee, Salik Rehman, and all of them have dedicated their lives to this enormously difficult rehabilitation venture.
The work is a quiet effort to document in detail the brothers’ patience and sacrifice. Carrying on in the face of punishing impediments, including lack of funds, Saud and Shehzad live in hope with a never-say-die attitude. There is an extremely touching scene when one of them goes to a meat shop and asks for a concession in price. It is not easy feeding kites, which are birds of prey.
It may sound unbelievable but the brothers have been at it for two decades, struggling to get funds at home and from abroad. We learn as we watch the documentary that they feel taking care of kites and helping them to fly again by themselves are rewards. They love feeding the winged creatures, and the way they caress them establishing an undying bond is marvellously narrated by Shaunak Sen.
On the other hand, The Elephant Whisperers made me wonder how the Academy voters would be able to resist honouring this extremely moving documentary about two adorable baby elephants and their keepers, a man and woman (Bomman and Bellie) who later get married.
In a piece I wrote in Arab News I said: “They live in the lush and delightfully picturesque terrain of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. With its myriad colours, varied vegetation and fantastic species – captured vividly by Karan Thapliyal and others — the film kept me absorbed for all of its 41 minutes.
Helmed by Kartiki Gonsalves with narration penned by Priscilla Gonsalves, “The Elephant Whisperers” is crisp and refreshing. As one writer put it, it is this year’s “My Octopus Teacher” — the 2020 Oscar-winning documentary tracing the bond between a filmmaker and an octopus.
The core story in The Elephant Whisperers is about two elephant calves, Raghu and Ammu, who are treated like their own children by the couple. As the environment becomes a buzzword in the media, it is especially touching when Bomman says we live of the forest, but we should also protect it. And despite the fact that Bellie’s husband was killed by a tiger, she gets over her fear of the forest and begins to mingle with it. Later, when Bomman and Bellie get married, it seems like they have forged a perfect union not just with each other, but also with the rich forest that they call their home.
Fans hope the buzz translates into an Oscar, but India will make its presence felt on stage nonetheless. Naatu Naatu composer MM Keeravani and singers Rahul Sipligunj-Kaala Bhairava will be on stage for a live performance of the song in true Academy tradition of giving a platform to all five Original Song nominees.
According to a Press report: “Naatu Naatu, the foot-tapping fun number from the Rajamouli film, competes with Tell It Like a Woman from the movie of the same name, Hold My Hand from Top Gun: Maverick, Lift Me Up from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and This Is a Life from Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Naatu Naatu, which also won a Golden Globe, is an award-season sensation in Hollywood, recalling the wave created by A R Rahman’s Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman, Gulzar and Resul Pookutty had scripted history by claiming three of the statuettes from the film’s eight wins in 2009.
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