Not Paid Remuneration: ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ Bomman, Bellie Slam Docu Makers
Bomman and Bellie, the tribal couple who starred in the Oscar-winning documentary The Elephant Whisperers, have claimed that they were not paid remuneration for working on the project and also the makers failed to return the amount that they spent on the Oscar Award-winning documentary. The couple, in an interview with a website, mounted allegations of harassment and exploitation against the makers.
They allege that director Kartiki Gonsalves was friendly during the shoot and her attitude changed after winning the Oscar Award.
They pointed out that the expenditure spent on shooting the wedding scene in the documentary has not been paid to them yet.
Bomman and Bellie, who had been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for orphaned elephants, found love blooming between them while working together. Eventually, they decided to tie the knot. Kartiki, wanting to capture their love story, wished to include their wedding scene in the film. According to Kattunayakan customs, a wedding involves the participation of local community members and is followed by a traditional reception featuring food and new clothes.
Bomman and Bellie revealed that they used the money they had saved for Bellie's granddaughter's education to fund the wedding scene for the film.
"Kartiki said she wanted to shoot the wedding scene in one day. However, she did not have the money for it and asked us to arrange the same. It cost us around Rs 1 lakh. Even though Kartiki had promised us that she would return the money, she has not returned it till now. Whenever we call her, she says she is busy and that she will return our calls soon. But she never does, " they alleged. They also claim that they were not allowed to touch the Oscar statuette. "Our faces [tribal identity] got her the award, but she never let us touch and hold the Oscar statuette during the facilitation. We lost our peace after this documentary," the couple alleges.
They had also sent a legal notice to the filmmakers in July over the remuneration issue. Responding to the allegations, Kartiki Gonsalves, in a statement, said, "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."
It said that the allegations are not true and stated, "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 of the contributors of this story, and remain driven by the desire to create positive change."