Last weekend, I was lucky to have watched one of my all time favourite movies, SAFED HAATHI, with my son. I am sure he enjoyed seeing a white elephant and a horde of wild animals. But he got disinterested just before Airavath* went back to the forest to live happily ever after.
I am really curious to know why Bollywood has failed to come up with a good script for children regularly while children’s books and kids channels are on the boom in India. (I feel Bollywood filmmakers think if a film has children running around, it becomes a children’s movie.)
Of course, unlike kids of our time, today’s kids do not want mediocre products (read films). While we watched anything and everything with mouth agape, today’s kids are highly matured, surrounded with hi-tech gadgets, sophisticated tastes and prefer watching what elders see on TV or the silver screen. Seeing these kids, I feel they act a decade older than their actual age!
Coming back to SAFED HAATHI, I must have seen this movie atleast a dozen times, thanks to the television (esp. Zee Cinema). But last week’s viewing was special as I saw the movie for the first time with my son. And I still remember the day when I saw it for the first time in a theatre in Cochin. It was a usual day at school on this side of the bridge in Kendriya Vidyalaya Naval Base -1 where I was studying Class 3. Suddenly by noon time, a teacher came and announced us to take our bags and sit inside the school bus. For what? I didn’t hear the full sentence. I started packing my bag and was already in the bus along with a few others.
My friends from different sections and classes sat in the bus and we were exchanging ‘Bruce Lee’ labels and narrating ‘Giant Robot’ stories when we saw that we were entering K.V. No. 2, which was on the other side of the bridge. Since our bus came everyday to pick a few students from this school, we thought it was the routine thing that was happening. But it was a pleasant surprise when the bus stopped at a school theatre and in no time we were told to finish our lunch (which we had got from home). We obediently ate our lunch, seated on the cushioned seats of the theatre, like good boys and girls as our teacher was standing closeby monitoring our moves. Some of us were still discussing about Bruce Lee and Giant Robot when we heard our teacher shout “Pin drop silence”. She told us that we would be watching a special screening of the children’s movie: SAFED HAATHI. We made a huge noise and the teacher mildly told us to sit silently for the next couple of hours.
As soon as the film started, we got sucked into the narrative. The film was pure children’s drama about the adventures of Sibu an orphan boy, and a White Elephant he befriends in the forest.
The 130 minutes Hindi film had a few known faces in Shatrughan Sinha (I had seen some of his songs on Chitrahaar) , Gayatri (I had seen her in Auto Raja) and Vijay Arora (popular face on Doordarshan in those days).
For those of you who have not watched the movie, here is the storyline:
An unsuccessful film-maker (Vijay Arora) chronicles the story of two orphaned children, Sibu and his sister Rani, who live with their abusive uncle and aunt. The uncle is indifferent with the kids while the aunt is very cruel. But Sibu is very close to the talking bird, Mynah.
One evening Sibu’s aunt asks him to take a Saree to her mother who lives in another village, which is en route a dense forest. When Sibu comes to the forest, it is already dark. Sibu falls asleep but is suddenly awakend by the roar of a terrible tiger. The tiger is about to take a leap on poor Sibu when a huge White Elephant emerges trumpeting magnificently. The tiger is frightened and runs away. The huge White Elephant or Safed Haathi slowly approaches Sibu and they become friends.
Next morning Sibu safely reaches the other village and hands over the packet of cloth to his aunt’s mother. He gets some money in return. With that money he buys some bananas and after returning to the forest, feeds his friend Airavath, the White Elephant. Airavath, pleased with Sibu, gives him a gold coin. Sibu also finds a pot full of coins, thanks to Airavath.
Sibu returns home with the coin. Eventually he tries to hide the coin from his aunt and uncle but when they get to know about the coin, they become extra sweet to him and very cleverly trace out the White Elephant. Meanwhile a Maharaja comes to the village for hunting. He strikes his tent near the forest. Sibu’s uncle and aunt tell the Maharaja about the existence of the White Elephant. The Maharaja promises them a reward if they can show him the White Elephant. He swears to capture the White Elephant. After he gets to know about Sibu’s friendship with the White Elephant from Sibu’s uncle, he sets a trap.
Next morning the Maharaja takes Sibu to the forest along with his associates and a dozen elephants. He puts a gun on the poor boy’s head and shouts to the White Elephant that if he does not surrender, Sibu’s head will be blown into pieces. Unable to see his friend in distress, the White Elephant surrenders. Sibu becomes desperate when he sees Airavath chained. He goes to the forest and asks Mynah to call all the animals and to declare a war against the Maharaja. Elephants, tigers, cobras and other animals unitedly attack Maharaja’s tents. They do not kill anybody but overpower Maharaja and his associates. Sibu frees Airavath who goes back to the forest followed by all other animals. Meanwhile, Sibu’s uncle and aunt, in their greed to get the pot full of coins, drag Sibu to the spot where he has hidden the pot. But as soon as they lay their hands on the pot, they get bitten by a snake and die.
Even today, what appeals to me is that not only is Safed Haathi very entertaining, it was also a very intelligent film for a young audience, which is really rare. There is a very important message told in a neat and simple way and the movie is very close to reality as there are no garish sets and costumes. It had lots of animals which we loved. And it has been shot fully in the forests and natural locales.
When I watched it last weekend, I heard the songs sung by Yesudas more carefully for its meaning and tunes. Certainly, the 2 songs ‘Utho hai lal, Utho he, Narayan aai’ and ‘Shikari raja aaya re, aaya re’ must be featured in Yesudas’ unknown numbers. Also, everytime I see the movie, I feel the actors have given such a splendid performance, specially Master Ashwani, who has really made Sibu’s character come alive. And I wonder how many times they must have painted the elephant WHITE for the film shooting!!
This is one of the best children’s film India has made. And I would want such a film to be made again.
Airavath! Please Vaapas aao… (Airavath! Please come back)
* According to Hindu mythology, Indra the king of Gods, rides a white elephant named Airavat.