A stunning film from India that clocks in under five minutes, How the Elephant Lost His Wings brings to life—the life of 3D computer animation—the brass sculptures of Bastar District, Chhattisgarh. This gives Tara Douglas’s film, based on a Muria Gond legend, a “look” that no other film I know of can lay claim to.
The original elephant, you know, flew; weightily landing on homes and fields of crops that got crushed as a result, he made miserable the humans who lived and toiled below on Earth. Something has to be done. The tribal god suggests a feast for the elephant; all that food makes the elephant go to sleep; while the elephant sleeps, the tribal god detaches the animal’s wings, creating out of them the peacock’s tail and the leaves of the banana tree. The people are ecstatic: “We’re free! We’re free!” The tribal god has the last word—for us: “Don’t fall asleep. You could lose your freedom.”
Freedom for some comes at the expense of others’ freedom; and everyone must sleep now and then. Many viewers will take the tribal god’s words figuratively; they will understand his meaning as “Be vigilant lest you lose freedom.” This would miss the point of Douglas’s political parable, however. What the tribal god has done in clipping the elephant’s wings is to go against Nature, reiterating his own supreme power. If he can use this power to solve his people’s problem in such a way, at another point in time he can use it against his people. This is why the people’s exultation—“We’re free! We’re free!”—rings so hollow. Theirs is the illusion of freedom when in fact their tribal god solves their problems and owns their destinies.
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