Adding more life into one of the most living animals in the Indian culture- the elephant, Haathi Mere Saathi, does what Hollywood has done now repeatedly, almost thirty years back. The drama gives the elephant the most humane characteristics evident in a natural person today, minus all the special effects that we’ve come to expect in a 2002 film. This indeed is “the most unusual film ever produced in India” as it takes adornment to the elephant a step further. Elephants are often regarded as the smartest of animals, in Haathi Mere Saathi; the elephant is smarter than all of the characters in the film combined.
Rajesh Khanna was once warned not to sign the film as the subject of an elephant who is the friend to man would most likely fail at the box office. Thankfully, M. Thirumugam went ahead with his film and later won all the acclaim for it- the best of them all being the golden jubilee.
The story of the film starts off in a very typical Hindi styled manner. Interesting that the story itself has been repeated many a times prior to and after the film’s release, but it is the element of the elephant which changes everything and makes this one a delight for those that love touching cinema.
This drama enfolds around Raju (Rajesh Khanna) who is presumed dead after an attack by panthers. Raju survives the attacks with the help of a group of elephants who he ultimately grows up with. The one who Raju is the closest to he has given the name of Ramoo. Being the son of a rich man, once grown Raju could ask for nothing more. His life is content with his soul mate- Ramoo. Raju resulting sacrifices his wealth only to fall in love with a rich woman, Tanu (Tanuja). Thus the drama of poor vs. rich and dowry matters arise while Raju doesn’t leave the side of Ramoo. Eventually Raju and Tanu do marry, have a child, but circumstances, more specifically envy keep proposing the enmity ship of Tanu and Ramoo. Eventually matters heighten where Tanu, Raju’s love and Ramoo, Raju’s soul mate, are at differences with each other, but it is Ramoo who is innocent and Raju fooled. When Ramoo eventually saves the life of a befuddled Tanu and their son, matters clear up, but only briefly.
The film is at the very least touching. The excellently trained elephant has a lot to do with this. What the film does really is delve into the human-animal psyche and draws comparisons on how different we really are. The answer is, not a lot. Especially with elephants, who cry human tears and fear human fears. The innocence that animals hold is sometimes forgotten, which M. Thirumugam clearly points out in several portions. At points, we come to realize that some humans would not do what the elephants and Ramoo have done for Raju. This comes across as the most important morale of the film. The occurrences, jealousy, wealth, are all regular situations meant to bring out the humane characteristics in what is really a non-humane relationship. What’s interesting is how it’s the animals that end up fighting (the elephant vs. the snake). The story may never happen, or may have not happened yet, but the true morale, aside from drawing lines between humans and animals, love and hate, is respect to other animals. They too are innocent creatures.
The film moves at an excellent pace, which is in tandem with most of the films released during the seventies. Setting, choreography all serve the film well. Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s music was naturally a hit with the title track being the best number of them all. Quite a popular tune it was.
Rajesh Khanna performs well and doesn’t disappoint. His author-backed role suited him well. Tanuja supports well in a typical heroine role of the times, surely nothing demanding on her part. The real winners are the elephants. You’ll love the movie for them.
Haathi Mere Saathi is a film that doesn’t resort to preaching but depicts so many important things in a short time span, which are often not shown in a regular Bollywood film. It’s a touching fest of an interesting comparison of the human and animal mind. Are we really any different?