Guneet Monga: We witnessed the power of storytelling after our win

BySyeda Eba Fatima
Mar 17, 2023 07:18 AM IST

Producer Guneet Monga and director Kartiki Gonsalves created history by winning the Best Documentary Short Oscar at the 95th Academy Awards.

History was made at the 95th Academy Awards when The Elephant Whisperers (2022) produced by Guneet Monga and directed by Kartiki Gonsalves, won the Best Documentary Short Film statuette. The 41-minute documentary narrates the tale of an orphaned elephant calf, Raghu, put in the care of mahouts, Bomman and Bellie. The Oscar win brought focus to the care of elephants and made the world stand up and take notice of Indian stories, including her film, which has paved the way for change, says Monga.

Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga pose with the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film for The Elephant Whisperers
Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga pose with the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film for The Elephant Whisperers

Elaborating on how the victory created a positive impact for the welfare of elephants in Tamil Nadu, says, “We witnessed the power of storytelling after our win. The state government announced 1 lakh from the CM Relief Fund for each of the 91 elephant caretakers in the two camps of the state, as a token of appreciation. It also allocated 9.1 crore to build homes for mahouts and 5 crore has been allotted to develop an elephant camp in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. CM MK Stalin has also felicitated Bommon and Bellie.” Happy with the difference she has managed to make, Monga adds, “We will continue to tell stories that matter and stories that make a difference.”

Monga also speaks about how the power of Indian cinema is starting to show its magic across the globe. “When Bong Joon Ho said in his Oscar speech, ‘Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films’ he almost manifested a doorway for more languages to make a mark globally. The sentiment of all films is the same, irrespective of the language, so when they resonate alike with audiences across the globe, creativity wins! Real stories win,” she comments.

What makes this award more special for Monga is the fact that “two women won it”. She shares, “I’m so proud and honoured that Kartiki (who debuted with the film) and I were the only two women representing India at the Oscars this year and won the first award for an Indian production. This is historic and a message for my fellow women.”

Sharing the joy of witnessing fellow artistes make India proud on the Oscars stage, Monga tells us, “It was majestic to witness the live performance of Naatu Naatu (RRR, 2022) and win an Oscar. I’m so proud that we could share this moment with SS Rajamouli sir, MM Keeravani, Chandrabose, Ram Charan and Jr NTR.”

Acknowledging Shaunak Sen, Monga adds, “I’m so proud of All That Breathes (2022). The film may not have won, but Shaunak is one of the most promising filmmakers from India to look out for. All three nominations made 2023 a glorious year for India at the Oscars.”

Now, the actor is looking forward to coming to India. “I’ve been missing home and home-cooked food. It’s been way too long! I want to come back home and also meet Sunny’s (Sunny Kapoor - Husband) parents and spend time with them. We haven’t spent much time together since our wedding in December. I was on my honeymoon when the documentary got shortlisted. The moment I came back we were nominated. And since then I’ve not been able to spend time at home with my family.”

Though Indian documentaries have succeeded in making a name for themselves at film festivals in recent years, Monga has often mentioned that it requires more structure, funding, and support. Does she believe that being recognized at the Oscars will improve the situation? Monga answers: “There is very little support for documentary funding in India. Documentaries have usually been made with the support of international funds, TV Channels, and productions. But now, with platforms like Netflix, it’s doubled down and increased, which has also made documentaries, easy to be seen for regular audiences to be able to consume and appreciate the art of documentaries. But there is a lot more work to be done. I hope there are many more funding opportunities that come up.”

She goes on, “If one documentary can make such a huge difference, one can only imagine how much more is possible if we truly support documentary filmmaking in India.”

The filmmaker also throws light on how the journey of bringing a story from India’s heartland to a global platform like the Oscars has been a roller coaster for her and the entire team. “From Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to the Oscars, yes, the journey of The Elephant Whisperers has been so inspiring, rewarding, and heartwarming. The love we’ve received from global audiences, thousands of emails, fan art, and messages from people of all age groups is something we had never anticipated and seen before for a documentary film,” she tells us.

“Our director Kartiki Gonsalves was in LA even before we were nominated. The fact that it resonated with so many people across the globe is our true reward. She worked hard in promoting the film and making sure it reached more people. I joined her in February and we attended multiple screenings of our documentary short film, met so many incredible people who supported us, appreciated our work, and made our film so special,” she adds.

Monga believes winning or losing is ultimately in the hands of the voters at The Academy but she so grateful that they chose this film as the winner amongst so many incredible films in the particular category. “It’s been a roller coaster ride, yes, amid which we ended up creating history,” says Monga.

As she wraps up, Monga gives one last message to all the people, hoping to receive that trophy one day, represent their country internationally and make everyone proud. “Don’t wait for anyone’s approval. Keep moving forward and there’s nothing that is not achievable. If I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s all in our heads. Here’s to many more Oscars!”

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