The indigenous tribal couple Bomman and Bellie, who were featured in the Oscar-winning documentary 'The Elephant Whisperers', has accused the film's producers of financial abuse and mistreatment. The renowned film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film in 2023 and highlighted the couple's special relationship with elephants as well as their conservation activities.
Bomman and Bellie asserted that despite spending a significant amount of money on the filming of 'The Elephant Whisperers', the producers did not compensate them. Additionally, they claim that the producers were unresponsive following the Oscar victory.
Production company Sikhya Entertainment and the documentary’s director, Kartiki Gonsalves, have since responded to the accusations. They released a statement that 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. Our honourable chief minister of Tamil Nadu, MK 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 a deep respect for all the contributors of this story, and remain driven by the desire to create positive change,” the statement added.