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Eats, shoots and sells

FILM MAKING

Gargi Gupta  |  New Delhi 

finally finds takers for his film on the
It's not easy being a wildlife filmmaker in India. Ask Naresh Bedi, one half of the famous Bedi brothers, who may justifiably claim to be the pioneers of wildlife filmmaking in India.
First of all, the widespread ignorance of and apathy neither the government nor will fund your enterprise. Next, you're up against the daunting expenses of making a
A classic wildlife film, one that attempts to give a general overview of a species (as against the jumping rabbit, hey-look-there's-a-tiger kind) takes at least a couple of years to make. It entails keeping a camera and crew parked in often inhospitable terrain.
Also, to assure global class quality, essential for any film in this genre since the audience defies political borders, a wildlife filmmaker must invest periodically in the latest equipment in the field of
And that's not petty cash "" the very latest hi-definition camera could cost around Rs 50 lakh, with the lens burning an equally large hole in the budget sheet. Then there's the 35-per cent duty (so much for convergence to Asean levels) on getting the equipment into India.
Last but not least, the prospective wildlife filmmaker must make decisions based on market demand in determining the actual content of the film.
As in tinsel town, there's a star system in operation that decrees the biggest viewership for lions and tigers, which have charisma of presence (or probable presence), followed by the contextually bright stars: snakes and elephants (the scripts must play particularly well with these two).
These have far more appeal than other quadripeds, though of course a well crafted script can create a gripping narrative of almost anything that moves.
When Bedi came up with the idea of making a film on the elusive red panda, of which only about 2,500 remain on the planet, and that too in the dense, misty jungles of the lower Himalayas from Nepal and India upto Laos, it was the wildlife specialists who he chose to sell his idea to.
Bedi sounded out international distributors and broadcasters at the 2004 Wildscreen festival, popularly known as the Green Oscars, and he got what he thought he would: an enthusiastic response, approval of his unique idea and many words of encouragement.
But that was about all. E-mails to prospective funders lay unanswered for months on end... until Bedi decided to go ahead on his own.
Bedi has had similar funding problems with almost all the thicket-slashing wildlife films he's made "" The Ganges Gharial (1984) which documented the reptile's egg-laying behaviour for the first time, or Whistling Hunter (1989) on the wild dogs of India. "Only three of my films, on elephants, Ladakh and the tiger, were pre-sold," says Bedi.
The man, however, is not complaining. Doing it on his own may be a risky affair, but it allows him the freedom to make the film as he wants.
One would have thought matters have improved with channels like Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet going desi. But they haven't, except for isolated instances like NatGeo's commissioning the Alva Brothers' Miditech for a recent documentary.
Mike Pandey, the the only Indian to have won three Green Oscars, sees a great north-south divide in the funding of wildlife films.
"The channels don't mind paying a rookie filmmaker from the West $800,000 to make a film on the tigers in Badhavgarh, but when it comes to buying films made by Indian filmmakers they will pay as little as $2,000 for three years. But what can you expect when the Indian government itself doesn't support us?"
Documentary filmmaker Iqbal Malhotra is even more categorical: "There is a mindset among the British and Americans that they know it all, which makes it very difficult for Indian filmmakers."
Both Bedi and Pandey finance their wildlife films with other run-of-the-mill projects. Both of them have production houses that do films commissioned by or government departments, television serials, quick jobs for Bollywood and so on. "Bread and butter," says Bedi.
For Cherub of the Mist, as the film is called, Bedi has been lucky to get funding from the government of West Bengal "" Rs 15 lakh of the Rs 75-80 lakh budget.
But that's because the film is about a conservation initiative of the Darjeeling Zoo to release two bred-in-captivity red pandas into the wilds of the Singalila National Park. In return, Bedi has made a Bengali version of the film for the state government.
Cherub of the Mist had its premiere at the Aranyak Fesitval in Kolkata last month, and has just been picked up by the Netherlands-based distributor, Off the Fence.
But the intrepid filmmaker hasn't been quite as lucky with another of his recently made films "" on the bear, which has been lying unsold.

First Published: Fri, February 03 2006. 00:00 IST
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