“Ele, My Friend” is a sensitive tale that illustrates the extraordinarily strong bond that can develop between animals and people – in this case, a boy and a young elephant. It is set against the striking backdrop of southern India with its wide vistas and primitive villages.
The film was produced by Linda Mandrayar and written and directed by her husband, Dharan Mandrayar. The couple resides in Bonsall. “Ele, My Friend” was first released in 1992 and is now being distributed on DVD. This wonderful family film has received great reviews over the years.
Ted Baehr of MovieGuide writes, “Beautifully photographed…with stunning images…rare, gentle movie…”
The film stars Jacob Paul Guzman as Charles, the English boy who lives in India with his parents. The story follows the adventures of Charles, who likes to watch the elephants at their watering hole. He slowly makes friends with a young elephant by offering him bananas. The young elephant that Charles names “Ele” is then kidnapped and is headed for an uncertain future. However, because of his love for the animal, the boy follows the elephant and kidnappers across the picturesque Indian countryside, facing both hunger and danger.
The movie is set in 1924 and was filmed on location in India. Shooting a movie on location has its challenges, particularly if you are using elephants. This film captures some remarkable elephant behaviors – some were coaxed, but some were natural.
There were no digital or robot elephants used, but instead the elephant cast was a combination of a herd within a wildlife refuge along with trained elephants that had to be hauled from set to set in trailers. The large herd seen lumbering at the edge of a lake were animals that lived within the refuge and were not trained. The use of the wild herd made for a captivating documentary-like effect.
The elephant named Queen, which played Ele’s mother, was not his mother but a trained elephant. Queen did an outstanding job of looking like the adoring mother, even linking trunks with the younger elephant. It was also a stupendous performance as she stampeded through a village striking terror in the villagers. She then had to stop short with one foot hovering over a baby. In reality the foot was a few feet from the baby, but the camera angle created a sense of close proximity.
Before the scene with the baby was filmed, Dharan Mandrayar lay on the ground with the elephant’s foot suspended above him in order to convince the crew that the elephant was indeed trained to do this and could be trusted.
An unplanned incident occurred when a wild bull elephant charged the set and the crew had to quickly lead the trained elephants to safety.
One tense filming moment came when Ele had to fall into a pit. This actually happened and they only did one “take.” The pit was padded with straw and sawdust to break the fall, but on camera it looked brutal.
Of the entire project, Dharan said it was akin to “going on safari.” He also mentioned that they shot the film based on the mood of the elephant [Ele] and, “if he’s going to pout, you are done for the day.”
The cinematography is marvelous, highlighting the wide vistas, lacy trees and the natural beauty of India beyond the crowded metropolises. The cinematographers also managed to capture the color and excitement of a marketplace with stalks of bananas swinging from carts and vendors hawking native goods. A night scene with fiery torches slicing through the darkness was particularly well done.
Aside from a few scenes that might be too intense for the very young, such as some fight sequences, “Ele, My Friend” is a suspenseful and sensitive family film that will leave you with a cozy feeling.
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DVDs can be purchased at the following locations during the holidays:
• Wee Little Sprouts, 119 N. Main, Fallbrook
• Fallbrook School of the Arts, 310 E. Alvarado, Fallbrook
• Fallbrook Christian Book Center, 115 Alvarado, Fallbrook
• Video Nite, 5256 S. Mission, Bonsall
For further information contact Linda Mandrayar at [email protected].