Thanks to the Canadian producer Rock Demers, Prajna Chowta and the film-maker Philippe Gautier directed a full-length feature film "Hathi" ("elephant" in Hindi) in 1996/1997 with 14 months of principal photography in little unknown areas of India.

"French-born Philippe Gautier, a former assistant to John Boorman, David Hamilton, and Helmut Newton, directed this beautiful Canadian nature drama examining the tragic reduction of elephants in the wild.
In India of the '70s, teenage elephant-trainer Makbul grows close to elephant-calf Vikrama. By 1990, the introduction of modern forestry techniques eliminates the need for elephants to fell and move trees, prompting an auction sale of Vikrama. Makbul is distraught by the separation. Mistreated, Vikrama attacks and kills his new owner.

Real-life mahouts (elephant riders) Jamedar Sabu Saab and Kawadi Makbul also served as the models for the characters they portray. Shown in competition at the 1998 Montreal World Film Festival."

Bob Stewart, All Movie Guide, New York Times


Makbul and his elephant Vikrama

5000 years ago, in India, men started to capture and tame elephants for war, parades and worship. Still today, the young Makbul grows up in daily contact with the wild and domesticated elephants that live in the forest around his native village in southern India. Over the objections of his mother, Makbul follows in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, going deep into the forest to learn the age-old profession of the mahout, or elephant handler in the government's employ.

When an elephant calf named Vikrama is born, the animal is placed under Makbul's care. The boy raises and trains the elephant, but when his father dies, Makbul - now head of the family but too young to be hired by the forest department - must seek work in the neighboring villages, away from the elephants.

The bond between Makbul and the life of his forebears is too strong, and as he passes into
adulthood, his destiny of becoming a mahout is fulfilled. But times have changed, the forest operations have come to an end and no longer require the elephants and their handlers. Vikrama is sold and Makbul is charged with delivering the elephant to its buyer.

They head off across India, further and further away from the world of the forests, up to an animal fair in the north. There, Makbul understands that the buyer is a corrupt dealer who has obtained the elephant at Government rate only to sell it at a higher price to someone else. Vikrama is placed in the care of a rougher mahout and kills him. Calamity ensues, and only Makbul can save Vikrama from further misfortune. And so they begin the long journey into an uncertain future, a man and an elephant bound together by centuries of tradition but with less and less of a place in this world to call their own.


Makbul standing on his elephant Vikrama


5000 years ago, in India, men started to capture and tame elephants for war, parades and worship. The "Arthashastra", a text from the second century B.C. mentions that the penalty for the killing of an elephant was death. The elephant men, the 'mahouts', have passed down from father to son, until today, a tradition that will soon disappear with the last elephant.
HATHI is based on the true story of one of them, today, in the South of India.


Director: Philippe GAUTIER
Screenplay: Prajna CHOWTA
Producer: Rock DEMERS
Voice Over: Jacques PERRIN
Makbul riding his elephant Vikrama Location: India (14 months photography)
Format: 97 minutes. 35mm colour. 1:1.66 - Dolby SR
International Sales: LA FÊTE, Montréal
Theatrical Distribution in France: Gébéka
Films Press: Monica DONATTI
Release: September 27, 2000
DVD & VHS Distribution: France Television (October 2001)




Official competition - Montréal 1998: festival international des films du monde
International film festival - San Francisco 1999
Golden award- Seoul film festival 1999
London film festival
International Film Festival of India, Hyderabad 1999

Press clips

"Hathi features photography of the grand beasts and their habitat that is so gorgeous, and occasionally startling, that few viewers will soon forget its images..."
Godfrey Cheschire - VARIETY

"...With hardly any dialogue and superb photography, Gautier expertly guides his audience's emotion deeply into this unique relationship, right up to its heartbreaking climax..."

See the Photo Gallery about Hathi Back