A new jungle safari

Debarati Palit Singh
Saturday, 9 November 2019

Wildlife conservationist and cinematographer Pooja Rathod, who was part of Wild Karnataka, talks about the documentary and challenges while working on the film

More than 25 per cent of land in India is covered with dense forest and provides shelter to hundreds of wildlife species. The diverse climate and geography of the country further helps their growth. 

Wild Karnataka, a documentary by Kalyan Varma, Amoghavarsha JS, Sarath Champati, and Vijay Mohan Raj, beautifully captures the rich biodiversity of that state, which is home to 20 wild reserves. 

The film, directed by Varma and Amoghavarsha, has been shot in 4K ultra high definition resolution, with an original score by Grammy Award-winning music composer Ricky Kej. It is the first Indian wildlife documentary to be narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The film has been shot by Prashanth S Nayaka, Sugandhi Gadadhar, Raghunath Belur, Adarsh Raju, Pradeep Hegde and Pooja Rathod. 

Lost The Plot and The Poona Western Club had organised a preview screening of the documentary on Saturday, which was followed by a Q&A session and discussion with Rathod. 

The Pune-based wildlife conservationist and cinematographer has worked with National Geographic, Discovery, Off the Fence, Blue Ant media and several Indian NGOs documenting natural history and wildlife conservation stories across the country. She also runs a marine conservation initiative called ‘Know Your Fish’ that promotes seafood sustainability in India. 

Wild Karnataka, which took four years to film, premiered this year in Bengaluru. 

- What is Wild Karnataka all about and what are some of the interesting aspects about the wild life in Karnataka that the audience will get to see?
Wild Karnataka takes you on a dreamlike journey of watching wildlife with a story-driven theme of not just our favourites like tigers and elephants, but also the lesser-known species like the Lion-tailed Macaque, Hornbills and countless species of amphibians and reptiles that will have one fascinated, if only one knew they existed. These stories cover the wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, the deciduous forests of the Mysore district, the thorn scrub forests and rocky outcrops of Ramnagar and Daroji, extending to the riverine and marine ecosystems, all found in this one state of Karnataka.

- The documentary is called India’s first blue-chip natural history film. Can you elaborate on that?
The film was shot using cutting edge technology and cameras with 4k broadcast quality. No wildlife in India has ever been seen from an aerial perspective. We can proudly say that we are the first to do so. We used quiet air-borne cameras for this.

Using this equipment, we were able to capture great footage and insight into animal behaviour as these equipments did not intrude into the natural living of the wild. 

- As a cinematographer, what were the memorable moments while shooting the documentary?
The most memorable moment was filming jungle cats and foxes living in a human-dominated landscape in the Deccan plateau. How they have adapted to living alongside people and how people are living alongside wild animals is always special to witness. The kind of tolerance we have in our country is probably not seen anywhere else in the world. People have leopards, tigers and elephants in their backyard and that tolerance has helped these species to survive even in an ever-growing populated country like India.

- What kind of challenges did you face in the course of filming it?
Filming is always challenging, considering the unpredictable weather that we have been facing. We had to be prepared for extreme heat in the summer season and sudden downpour during the monsoon. We needed to be physically fit to be able to walk with heavy equipment, follow animals closely and try to film them with least disturbance so that we could get their natural behaviours. But then, the joy of being in the wild, in the vicinity of these wild animals always over-rides the challenges.  

- How did your association with wildlife begin?
I did a Masters course in wildlife biology after travelling to several forests in the country and diving in many locations. I did a marine biology course in Andaman Islands and worked for three years in Lakshadweep islands on how climate change affects coral reef fish. 

I then pursued wildlife filmmaking in order to tell stories about conservation, document the rich biodiversity that our country is blessed with and make people care for it.

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