Indian Couple Files Lawsuit against Makers of Oscar-Winning Elephant Film for Alleged Mistreatment

An indigenous couple who were the central figures in the Oscar-winning Indian film “Elephant Whisperers” have filed a lawsuit against the film’s makers, claiming mistreatment. The film follows the story of Bomman and Bellie as they care for an orphaned and injured baby elephant in the Mudumulai Tiger Reserve. After the film’s success, the couple received recognition and a monetary reward from the government, but they allege that they were not properly compensated by the filmmakers for their participation. They have now sought a substantial sum of money to secure their housing and support their needs in old age.

The allegations made by the couple include broken promises and financial exploitation by the director and the production company. Bomman and Bellie claim that they were promised a house and a car by the director during the shoot, but these promises were not fulfilled. Additionally, they allege that they had to cover their own expenses during the shoot and even lent a sum of money to the director, which was not returned. In their legal notice, the couple asserts that they have not received fair benefits from the commercial success of the film. They argue that their skill, time, and effort should be proportionately compensated, especially considering the documentary’s roaring success.

The filmmakers have denied these allegations, stating that they have the utmost respect for all contributors to the story and that the claims made by Bomman and Bellie are untrue. They argue that the film has had a positive impact on the community and has raised awareness about wildlife conservation efforts. The makers assert that the success of the documentary has brought recognition to the work of mahouts like Bomman and Bellie, which should be seen as a moment of national pride.

This case is not isolated, as similar issues have arisen in the aftermath of the success of award-winning films in India. In 2021, directors of a documentary on Khabar Lahariya, an all-women news service run by marginalized communities, faced accusations of distorting the story by the media group portrayed in the film. These instances highlight the complex dynamics between filmmakers and the subjects of their documentaries, especially when commercial success and recognition come into play.

It remains to be seen when the case will be heard and what verdict will be reached. The allegations made by Bomman and Bellie against the director and production company raise questions about fair compensation and ethical treatment of the subjects in documentary filmmaking. This case serves as a reminder that the impact of a film extends beyond the screen and can have significant consequences for the individuals involved. As viewers, we should be aware of the potential complexities and ethical considerations involved in the production of documentaries, and support fair treatment and compensation for the subjects