Who Shot my elephant?

This one is special. Special because it’s the first-ever movie that I watched in the theatre. No, no, I’m not giving away, how old I was, then. But, I must also mention, that it’s Super Special because it was the first movie, I watched along with my Mother.

The movie, I write about this time, in M3(Matinee Masala Metaphor) has a Disneyesque appeal with an Indian twist. Apart from my personal ‘Firsts’, this movie can be credited with a lot of other ‘Firsts’. This movie, at that point in time, was the ‘First’ biggest hit ever made by a South Indian producer, in Hindi. The movie was also the ‘First’ collaboration of Salim-Javed, who was officially credited as screenplay writers. It was also the biggest hit of 1971 until then, going by box office collections and was also critically acclaimed.

A 1st May 1971 release, a remake of a 1967 South Indian ‘Deiva Cheyal’, ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ is the story of a boy, saved by elephants from a predator and left to the company of four elephants, as his family, by his ailing father.

The boy Raju, played by Rajesh Khanna (after a deluge of 14 consecutive solo hits) learns life and its ways, studying, playing, and growing up in the company of his family, his 4 elephants, the dearest being Ramu. 

Ramu, incidentally, is the reason for helping Raju meet and eventually win over Tanu, whom Raju is besotted with. Fate plays truant with Raju. The Prince turns into a pauper and loses everything dear to him, including the love of his life, and eventually comes very close to losing his life as well.

Ramu turns out to be the lucky mascot, the savior once again for his Master. Raju is back in the game and how! Thanks to Raju’s intelligence and Ramu’s hard work, the pauper turns back into a Prince, reigns over a new loving world he has created, happily married to Tanu, and then blessed with a beautiful baby.

Here comes the twist. Driven by the need to cover up their own follies, some members of the house staff start coloring how Tanu sees Ramu. However noble, every action of Ramu is now viewed by Tanu through the same tarnished lenses and she starts planting her own fears in Raju’s mind. Raju’s heart fights against his mind, refusing to believe that he or his family could ever be harmed by Ramu, the one who got them together, the one he grew up with, the one who helped him regain everything in life, including his life, twice. Alas, Tanu’s acrimonious arguments and barbs coerce Raju to alter his behavior towards his beloved Ramu, and events down the spiral to an extent, where Ramu ends up taking up a bullet for his Master. He gets shot. Only after this, does Tanu realize and recognize the loyalty, Ramu harbored for his Master. 

The audience weeps to a heart-touching rendition by Mohammed Rafi, Tanu repents, Raju forgives her but he had lost his Ramu forever, he had lost a relationship that had blossomed over so many years, he lost his most loyal friend, his greatest support, he had lost his elephant. That’s when the mind thinks, who shot the elephant? The gun? the villain who was holding the gun? the staff who initiated the entire sequence to cover up their tracks? Tanu who chose to believe what others said over what she had seen? or Raju who gave in to the social pressure?

I’ve been Ramu to somebody, selfless, devoted, and committed to helping my Raju succeed in every sphere in life. My Raju’s success, the tiniest, was a big celebration for me until my Raju started succumbing to the pressure, and one day, I was hit by a bullet. I took the bullet, some things died, but i still kept wondering and still do, why cant my Raju see that I could have done so much for him, there was so much more. Alas, he shot his elephant, too soon.

Could this be avoided? When I look back, maybe yes. I would have expected Raju to be stronger, mapped our previous history, and banked on the past rather than succumbing to the pressure around.

Our professional and personal journeys get us to interact with so many different kinds of people. Over the years, you are able to identify the ones who selflessly support you and are the ones who unabashedly stand up for you before anybody else and cheer you on. These are your elephants. The ones who respect the role you play and will play along doing the right things even if it means tough situations for them, personally. They hold you high. As one rides over the waves of success, its also natural that you might come across a lot of house staff and a lot of Tanus who are not mature enough to see the true picture or harbor motives that may be conflicting with your goals and eventually start coercing you into making decisions that your heart does not permit and sometimes even coercing you to shoot your own elephant.

Barbara Kellerman, in her book ‘Followership’ beautifully brings out the growing influence, authority, and importance of people with relatively lesser sources of power and how they are turning out to be, not only consequential but also bolder and more strategic, by the day.

As Raju, it’s for your wisdom to pick and choose the right people around you or the least, for you to be cognizant of the maturity or the intent of the Tanus and the staff around you. As a Leader, it calls for wisdom, fortitude to ward off the social pressure by Tanus and the staff and protect your elephants. Lest, one day, you stand deserted by the Tanus of the world and then wonder, Who Shot My Elephant?


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