Monday, May 14, 2012

A simple yet powerful narrative

Apr 24, 2012 : Film Screening

Almost documentary in its nature, ‘Elephant Boy’ is a wonderful black and white adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Toomai of the Elephants’.

It was recently screened at the National Gallery of Modern Art in collaboration with the International Music and Arts Society.

The screening also included an informative and in-depth introduction to Sabu Dastagir, the lead actor in the film. The film was directed by Robert J Flaherty and Zoltan Korda and shot in the private forests of the erstwhile Mysore Maharaja.

Brilliant in its narration and cinematography, this 1937 film has a simple yet powerful narrative, that tells the tale of Toomai and his dreams of becoming a hunter like his father and forefathers. A dream that will come true when ‘he sees elephants dance’.

On watching a film that is over 80-years-old, young film-maker and audience member Kiran Ayathan says it was interesting but marginally annoying. “Although I liked the story for its simplicity, I found the British characters highly condescending which ruined the experience for me,” she says.

Although it’s centred around Toomai, played by then 13-year-old Sabu, the film gives a clear insight into the lives of Indian villagers, hunters and of course the British officials.

The village ‘sahib’, Petersen, played by Walter Hudd, starts to hire mahouts, including Toomai’s father, for the annual round up of elephants. On hearing that, Toomai has no one to care for him, Petersen’s heart melts and he allows the boy to tag along.

One night, Toomai’s father spots a tiger lurking about camp and immediately wakes up Petersen. The two go out into the dark to kill the animal. Unfortunately, Toomai’s father is killed in the fight.

The over-the-top cruel Rham Lal is then brought on to look after Kala Nag. Distraught at the death of her mahout and angered by the way she is now treated, Kala Nag lashes out, injuring Rham Lal.

Rham Lal is then paid off by Petersen to keep quiet or else leave the safe boundaries of the camp. Just before the elephant search is called off, Toomai notices Kala Nag sneak into the forest. He follows the beast and is led deep into the jungles, where from atop Kala Nag, sees a herd of pachyderms stomping their feet as if dancing.

On returning to camp, Toomai tells his tale of the elephants dance. Almost patronisingly Petersen says he can now become a hunter. The film closes with Toomai being taken under the able wing of Machua Appa, sahib’s right-hand man, so his lifelong dream can finally come true.

Kripa, who came to watch the film hoping it would be like ‘Jungle Book’, says she was a bit taken aback by the real and authentic visuals. “Sabu is such a natural.

The whole film was very realistic. It was jarring at times but very intriguing,” she says.

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