Richie Mehta’s Poacher, that premiered its first three episodes in the Indie Program Section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, begins with a disclaimer reminding that India amended the Wildlife Protection Act, that prohibited all forms of wildlife hunting since 1991. Yet as Poacher jumps to 2015, and starts off in the jungles of Malayattoor, Kerala, with that haunting shot of an elephant shot dead in the first few seconds, it becomes clear what lies at hidden sight. (Also read: Fair Play review: Chloe Domont’s erotic financial drama is an instant classic)
When a guilt stricken forest watcher admits that he was part of the murder of elephants to the Forest Officer, the confession unspools into an insidious web of undercover crimes that seem to be in full swing. We meet the unassuming Field Director of the Kerala Forest Department, Neel Banerjee (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) who understands that his present team of men will be of no use if he is to solve this mess as soon as possible. He calls Mala Jogi (Nimisha Sajayan) and immediately assigns her to the case. Why? Because she knows the villages like “the back of your hand- and the people in it.” A quiet moment right before she enters the station is enough to establish this- Mala is keenly aware of the sights and sounds of the dense jungle and its inhabitants.
There’s also the subdivision officer Dina (Kani Kusruti) when the action shifts to Trivandrum, who tracks down one of the culprits involved in ivory trade and much more, a criminal named Morris Finn. Yet, there are harder, more dangerous ways in which this whole operation is being planned out, right from a dealer in the capital and perhaps then moving on to international chains. Meanwhile Mala calls Alan Joesph (Roshan Mathew) for help, who helps her track the phone numbers that will lead to the local mastermind Raaz.
Following the International Emmy-winning series Delhi Crime, Richie Mehta relies on the format of investigative storytelling, and the ferocious reliance on sturdy exposition. Key details about the characters provide just enough material to enable the story forward. Three episodes in, Poacher has finally come close to finding Raaz, yet as the denouement suggests, far more secrets still remain. Poacher might not be as gut-wrenching a tale as Delhi Crime- the crime here is far more surreptitious and dense, but Mehta is interested in building an approach that agonizes on the same irony. The savage, ruthless treatment of these elephants for their teeth, and the conflicted stench of isolation that still breeds in the village cannot be understood by outsiders. Poacher captures the terror and beauty of Kerala’s forests, with cinematographer Johan Huerlin Aidt’s lens somehow relying on the dark undercover of shadows and vines, where wild foxes and tigers are a common sight.
Poacher builds its formidable world on the relatability of its cast. Nimisha Sajayan builds the steely resolve of Mala in the smallest moments of repressed rage, accounting for her own personal ground in-between. Dibyendu Bhattacharya excels as the officer who cannot afford to waste any time sorting for backup- for more reasons than one. Roshan Mathew and Kani Kusruti lend able, finely calibrated performances. These people are existing in a system where the perpetrators are also victims by and large, of an unjust template of corruption and inequality. Even though it decidedly arrives without the rush of a fast-paced thriller, Poacher proves to be a vividly detailed, richly atmospheric follow-up to Delhi Crime, that ultimately rewards its audience with a bracing sense of authenticity.
Inside Kareena Kapoor’s bday bash for Amrita with Malaika Arora, AP Dhillon | Bollywood
Kareena Kapoor proved she is a great best friend to have as she threw a cosy birthday bash for Amrita Arora at her own home. Kareena decked up her new Mumbai home in balloons and flowers and threw a party. In attendance were all these best friends and even Punjabi singer-rapper AP Dhillon. Also read: Kareena Kapoor wraps up new year celebrations with a perfect family photo from Switzerland
Kareena wore a black tank top for the occasion with a large cross around her neck. Amrita also wore a black outfit. Her big sister Malaika Arora was seen in a black top with sheer details and a pair of beige pants. She was joined by her boyfriend Arjun Kapoor, who arrived in casual clothes. Also spotted outside Kareena’s home was her big sister Karisma Kapoor in a red printed dress. AP Dhillon was seen in a white silk shirt. Also present for the party were Farhan Akhtar and Shibani Dandekar; and Ritesh Sidhwani with his wife Dolly Sidhwani.
Kareena also took to Instagram Stories to share inside pictures from the party. In one, she was seen with her hair tied him, smiling wide while Amrita gave a kiss to Mallika Bhat on her cheek. Another photo showed Malaika, Amrita and Kareena posing with AP Dhillon, who tried to hide his mouth with his hand. Ritesh was seen in the background and Kareena wrote, “Ritesh Sidhwani stop photobombing.”
Amrita shared pictures of Kareena’s home on Instagram and showed how her BFF decorated the terrace for her. There was a large golden balloon surrounded by plants, fairy lights and lamps. She thanked Kareena for throwing a party for her.
Amrita and Kareena have long been friends. She even appeared on her radio show, What Women Want. In an earlier interview with HT, Kareena said about her friends group, “Lolo (Karisma) is most shy, and I would say Malaika is the most adventurous. She is quite fearless. Ammu and me, we are only interested in wine and pasta! (laughs) Lolo is the shy prude, and she has always been that type of person.”
Kareena’s last release was Laal Singh Chaddha with Aamir Khan. She has a bunch of projects lined up now. One is The Devotion of Suspect X by Sujoy Ghosh and then her maiden production, a thriller by Hansal Mehta. She will soon begin work on her film with Tabu and Kriti Sanon, The Crew.
Interview | Kartiki Gonsalves on The Elephant Whisperers’ Oscars nom and more
Director Kartiki Gonsalves, who is nominated for an Oscar for her first documentary short film The Elephant Whisperers, shares that what drew to make the project was the “extremely unusual family dynamic” between a man, a woman and a young elephant. For her, the core idea of the documentary was to document the sacred bond between man and nature. With her background in documentary photography and cinematography, she worked hard to get the film’s subjects comfortable to the point where the production team were almost invisible. (Also read: Guneet Monga on The Elephant Whisperers’ Oscar nom: ‘Wanted to do everything to nurture this film’)
For her passion project, she picked cinematographers that had previously worked with animals and weren’t scared of being in the forest. Krish Makhija, Karan Thapliyal (who had worked on Oscar-nominated documentary Writing With Fire), and Anand Bansal, along with Kartiki on second camera, became a tight family to capture the emotions behind the story between man and animal.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, the first-time filmmaker spoke about her reaction to being an Oscar nominee, the unbreakable bond she shares with Bomman and Bellie, the elephant caretakers of Raghu, the orphan, and the message she hopes people will take from the Netflix film. Excerpts below:
Congratulations on the Oscar nomination for The Elephant Whisperers. How does it feel to get this recognition for your directorial debut?
It’s really special and I’m just really hoping for the best. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of 2017 when we began the movie. On behalf of Bomman and Bellie and elephant friends Raghu and Ammu, I think we’re all really thrilled to receive this great honour. I’m also thrilled for the extra publicity that will help spread the message of the film.
How did you first come to know about Bomman and Bellie and the elephant camp in Tamil Nadu?
I grew up in that same space. I was driving on my way Ooty to Bangalore to shift and bring my things back to my hometown in the Nilgiris of the Western Ghats. I saw Bomman walking with Raghu and he noticed my curiosity and beckoned me to come. I pulled my car over and I jumped out of the car and joined them. They were going on to the river and he was going to take his bath. I didn’t hesitate at all. I’ve been visiting the sanctuary since I was three years old but this experience was really different. Over the course of that evening, I just forged this unbreakable bond with [three-month old] Raghu.
It brought me so much happiness to be able to share this beautiful connection with a being so wild and so young, and extremely vulnerable. I observed that Bomman had this really special connection with Raghu like nothing else I’d ever seen before. Raghu was a son to Bomman and so much more than that. There were moments where Raghu would just be holding on to Bomman’s arm and he would just not want to let him go. I think that comes from the fear of when he was orphaned as a young calf. I think 2017 and 2018 was a very special part of my life and the beginning of a journey that will live on for the rest of my life.
What made you decide to make a short documentary out of this?
I think it happened very organically. There wasn’t a specific moment that made me want to start documenting. It was a correlation of a lot of years of storytelling and photography. I was existing with Bomman, Raghu and Bellie and just building trust. And now that I look back on it, I realised that those times were just so special because it was just being with them with no agenda. I was just being there because I wanted to be there. I had been to the park, I had walked through the forests on my own. I’ve encountered tigers and leopards on foot and done so many other things, but this was just very special. I’ve seen wild elephant calves but never one I could get this close to or observe on such a deep level. It all blossomed from that part.
What do Bomman and Bellie think of the Oscar nomination?
I’ve been talking to them very regularly. They’ve been getting a massive footfall at the elephant camp to see the elephants. They’re all over the news. I’ve been trying to be the middleman and passing by everything that we come across. There’s a massive following internationally and locally of people just falling in love with Bomman and Bellie, their values, the simplicity of the story and how passionate they are about looking after elephants and doing their bit for the planet and its conservation. They are just really happy and almost in tears every time I speak to them about how happy they are that their lives have gone out to and have touched so many people. I think it’s my duty to keep sending them all the messages and emails of people from across the world.
How are Raghu and Ammu doing?
They are doing very well. In fact, Raghu has become very obedient now. He’s much taller now. When I first met Raghu, he was about the height of my knees and now he’s much more than me. In fact, Ammu herself is much taller than me at this stage and I met her when she was three and a half – four feet tall. It’s just really special that they are very healthy, doing extremely well. These are bonds I will have for life.
What do you hope people will take away from The Elephant Whisperers after watching it?
While most films have focused more on humans being cured by a bond with an animal, humans being harmed by wild animals or wild animals suffering from human expansion into their territory, The Elephant Whisperers lets viewers understand both the elephant and the human carers with minimal, outside interpretation. It portrays the dignity of both the magnificent elephants and the indigenous people who have lived with them and cared for them for centuries. I also wanted the audience to stop seeing animals as the other and start seeing them as one of us. Indigenous people have such an in-depth ancient knowledge and respect for the land they live on and share their space with. There’s so much we can learn from them, respect for the land and only taking what they need.
Alia Bhatt reacts to Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan breaking Brahmastra BO record | Bollywood
Actors Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan reacted to the box office success of Pathaan, calling the film ‘possibly the biggest blockbuster of Indian cinema’. Speaking with the media at the Zee Cine awards 2023 press conference on Tuesday evening, Alia also responded when she was asked about Pathaan breaking the box office record of Brahmastra. Varun Dhawan reacted to the boycott trend that Pathaan faced ahead of its release. (Also Read | Siddharth Anand reacts to Pathaan controversy after success)
While many have been calling the success of Pathaan, Gangubai Kathiawadi, and Brahmastra an answer to the negativity, Alia said as artists, they don’t have so much “aggression”. Talking about responding to negativity and haters, Alia said, “I don’t think we have so much aggression in us like that. We are very grateful to be working and living our dream on a day-to-day basis. And we believe that we belong to the audience and the audience can say whatever they want about us. As long as we are entertaining them we will do our very best.”
Speaking about Pathaan she also said, “We feel very very happy as an industry that a film like Pathaan is not just a blockbuster but possibly the biggest blockbuster of Indian cinema. I think everybody should definitely clap for that once. We feel grateful for moments like this and pray that yahi hota rahe (this should continue happening).”
When a reporter said that Pathaan broke Brahmastra’s record, Alia added, “Every film should break every film’s record. I am very happy with that.” Alia’s last release Brahmastra Part One: Shiva, was helmed by Ayan Mukerji. The film also stars Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Nagarjuna, and Mouni Roy. The film gathered positive responses from the audience and collected over ₹425 crore gross worldwide at the box office.
Varun said one must not pay heed to boycott trends as the success of Pathaan is a testament that the audience is only looking for pure entertainment. He said, “I don’t want to talk about it. Why should we give so much importance to it? If people are liking it (Pathaan), then be happy. We should not discuss much about it. The collections are speaking about the reach of Indian cinema, of Hindi cinema. And when you have some of the biggest stars of this country in Pathaan, be it Shah Rukh sir, Salman bhai, Deepika Padukone and John, you are giving the audience what they want and that’s entertainment.”
Pathaan, a Yash Raj Films project, stars Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, John Abraham, Dimple Kapadia, and Ashutosh Rana among others. The spy thriller, which had faced boycott calls over the song Besharam Rang prior to its release on January 25, has been a humongous success at the box office, raising ₹591 crore gross worldwide in six days.
Directed by Siddharth Anand, Pathaan marks Shah Rukh’s first big-screen release as a lead in over four years. The movie is the fourth title in producer Aditya Chopra’s spy universe, following Salman Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), and War, featuring Hrithik Roshan (2019).
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