August 31, 2012 | 2 Comments | Betsy Woodman
Elephants in kids’ books and movies. Aren’t they irresistible? Walt Disney’s 1941 creation, Dumbo, is still flying around, powered by his enormous ears. Jean de Brunhoff published the first of his Babar books in France in 1931, and the series soon crossed the Atlantic and never left. My son, at age two, was inseparable from his stuffed Babar.
Recently I watched the Hindi film Haathi, Mere Saathi (“Elephants, My Companions.”) A smash hit in India in 1971, it starred Rajesh Khanna, whose death last month at age sixty-nine brought thousands of mourners into the streets of Mumbai to follow the funeral procession.
The movie is still enormous fun, a real kid-pleaser (with no cut-off age for kids.) In it, Rajesh Khanna plays Raju, a man whose existence revolves around elephants. Elephants saved his life in childhood and provide his livelihood in adulthood. All is well until…. Well, I won’t give away the plot.
The four elephants in the film are living, breathing pachyderms—no cartoons here. They’re highly trained, and absolutely adorable—kinder, wiser, more empathetic and more forgiving than the humans. (Alas, that’s often not hard.) Raju maintains that his friends are not dumb beasts, but incarnations of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god.
Ever since Aesop, storytellers have used animals to get a moral across. In Haathi Mere Saathi, friendship and loyalty wage an uphill battle against fear, ignorance, and greed. Not hard to choose which side to be on!