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Secrets of India's serengeti


Bangalore-based wildlife photographer and documentary filmmaker Sandesh Kadur won an award at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Montana, US, in May this year for his film on elephants. In an interview with TOI-Crest, Kadur, whose film was shown on National Geographic, talks about the disconnect between the urban jungle and the natural one and explains why he sees himself not as photographer and filmmaker but a regular guy who loves being in the wild.

Tell us about your film 'Secrets of Wild India - Elephant Kingdom'. How did it all start?

The idea crystallised during a meeting in 2010 where we discussed a coffee table book depicting a novel form of the Indian tricolour - green represented by the floodplains of Kaziranga, saffron by the tigers of central India and the burnt orange teak trees in the summer sun, and the white by the salt plains of the Kutch. I began the project with a journey to Kaziranga, India's Serengeti and an epic landscape dominated by the Brahmaputra. The animals here - wild buffaloes, rhinos, elephants and tigers - are also epic in size. Even the grass is ten feet high, hiding massive creatures within. I spent hours in the solitude of the river and grasslands and wanted to bring this magic home for people to see. What I filmed on my first day there, I think, constituted 50 per cent of my film.

The opening sequence of the film features a day-old elephant calf, still pink, with large eyes and unsteady legs. How did you manage to get that moment on film?

In Kaziranga's vast landscape, it's impossible to be in all places at once. My network largely consisted of forest guards and the researcher Karpagam Chelliah, who was studying elephants in the region. On a break from shooting, I had returned to Guwahati to retrieve some filming equipment. Karpagam called to say that an elephant was giving birth. My assistant Chinmay Rane and I rushed back to Kaziranga in time to see a baby elephant wobbling out of the bushes. We had, by chance of nature, become a part of the secret world of the elephants. I reached for my tripod to mount the camera, but couldn't find it. Quietly, we mounted the camera upon a chair, which rested on a beanbag, and shot what became the starting sequence of the film.

What was staying in the jungle like?

On a lot of days, no matter how much I looked, nothing happened in the jungle. Over such travels, I became one with the jungle and thought, someday I'll find that magic moment. So I lost myself in that landscape, finding stories along the way, until reality hit and it was time to leave. Back in the city, I wished I had never left those floodplains. People call me a photographer and filmmaker, but I am just a guy who loves being in the wild, capturing the natural world to bring home images that hopefully people will pause to think about.

There is little connection between the world of humans and that of wild animals these days.

The world of humans is that of a huge population of people lost in their everyday lives, disconnected from the natural world. I am desperately trying to keep the connection alive between people in the city and the creatures of the jungle.

Who would you like to dedicate your award to and why?

I'd like to share it with the guardians of the animals - the forest guards who devote their lives to them. They are in the frontline of conservation. Saro, Bir Bahadur Chatri, Lahan - all of them have won gunbattles against poachers.

There was a rare moment when you captured a tiger coming to feast on a dead rhino in your film North-Eastern Diaries. The film was even nominated for the Green Oscars in 2010. Why in retrospect do you think it did not win?

We actually put the film together in just a month and were happy that it was nominated at all. In retrospect, I think it lacked a strong story line. But then, we had documented a rare jungle behaviour, which has taken the film to several festivals after the Green Oscar nominations.

How do you feel when you become privy to nature's secrets?

When I captured on camera a tiger feeding on a rhino's carcass, I felt privileged to witness a rare moment in nature. I felt immediately connected to the natural world around me in its primal form.

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