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Storytelling has power to reshape perspective: Kartiki Gonsalves

DT Next caught up with Oscar award-winning filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves discussing her journey in the film industry and the inspirations that led her to make The Elephant Whisperers

Storytelling has power to reshape perspective: Kartiki Gonsalves

Poster of 'The Elephant Whisperers';Kartiki Gonsalves

CHENNAI: Filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves made history by becoming the first Indian film director to win an Oscar for her debut movie, The Elephant Whisperers, earlier this year. Running at 41 minutes, the documentary explores the bond between a couple named Bomman and Bellie and an orphaned baby elephant, Raghu, who was entrusted to their care. Recently, Kartiki was in Chennai for a panel discussion hosted by the Rotary Club of Madras. In an exclusive interaction with DT Next, Kartiki talks about her journey in the film industry, what inspired her to pursue a career in filmmaking, and more.

“Getting into filmmaking was an organic journey for me,” Kartiki began, adding, “I entered filmmaking by chance - I transitioned from being a photographer to a cinematographer, eventually becoming the director for The Elephant Whisperers. Every part of my life and career contributed to making the film. The Elephant Whisperers wasn’t a single moment; it was everything that happened in between. If I had not met Raghu, Bomman and Bellie, I wouldn’t have made this film. It was the beautiful relationship that I shared with them that paved the way for making the film.” The documentary not only tells a heart-touching story of the bond between animals and humans, showcasing co-existence but also highlights Indian culture and the tradition of environmental conservation.

Kartiki (left) and Guneet Monga after winning Oscars

Discussing her life after winning the Oscar, the director shares, “A lot of things have changed. One thing I realised is the power of storytelling – it can reach out to people across the world. It also gives people a chance to reconsider the way they think about certain things and allows people to connect. Another aspect is the current situation of Asian elephants and how people perceive elephants. And the work that has been done now to help conserve these endangered species. The Academy Award also paved the way for me to tell more stories. One problem that many documentary filmmakers face is funding to make films. The award helped me move ahead and tell more stories.”

Talking about the creative process when working on a film project, she says, “When it comes to documentary filmmaking, the best thing to do is step out into the field, be present, absorb what’s in front of you, and be able to tell the story in an honest way as possible.”

When asked about the challenges while making the film, she shared with DT Next, “The Elephant Whisperers is my debut film, and I faced numerous challenges in convincing people to believe in the story. Other challenges included obtaining permits to document the story and being in the place for the last six years.”

As an award-winning filmmaker, Kartiki Gonsalves emphasises the importance of accepting criticism as it comes. “It is something you must follow through. Honest work is the only foundation you can rely on,” concludes Kartiki.

Merin James
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