By Shiv Sahay Singh
It narrates the story of 60-year-old mahut and his relationship with pachyderms
At 11 p.m. on September 23, 2010, three female elephants, three calves and one male tusker were mowed down by a speeding train in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.
Mumbai-based filmmaker Ashok Patel’s award winning documentary God On the Edge, based on such reports of recurrent deaths of elephants on railway tracks, shines light on the continuing man-animal conflict in the region.
The documentary, which was premiered in Mumbai in February 2014, unfolds through the story of Jaan Baksh, a 60-year-old mahut and his relationship with a number of elephants he encountered in his career.
Though the film highlights the larger issue of grave concern, where over 50 elephants have been killed on the 168-km-long Siliguri-Alipurduar railway track over the last decade, the narrative is woven through the life and experiences of Jaan Baksh.
As an 11-year-old Jaan Baksh applied for the post of elephant-handler for the erstwhile Maharaja of Coochbehar in North Bengal and was heartbroken when his elephant Shivaprasad was shot after it killed one of its handlers. He resigned.
But he could not stay away from his ‘love’ too long. He returned in to train elephants again in 1985, when a young cow elephant Urvashi was refusing food and was on her deathbed.
The 46-minute-long documentary which was adjudged the best film on environment at the 10th IDPA (Indian Documentary Producer’s Association) Excellence Awards, also deals with a unique human –elephant relationship through the eyes of Jaan Baksh.
The mahut, who has so far trained over 50 elephants and 25 handlers, says each elephant has a distinct personality and how humans can prevent the conflict with herds of wild elephants going from one habitat to another.
“The accident on September 23, 2010, in which seven elephants were killed prompted me to make the film. It is a very serious issue and the situation is getting worse every year,” he told The Hindu.
Mr. Patel said the documentary was generating good response and is an official selection (in competition) at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, New York, 2014.