Updated: February 7, 2021 10:14:38 am
A group of nature enthusiasts and photographers from Pune, in constant search for new subjects to document in the wild, came across the Indian Wolf in the lesser-known grasslands of Saswad, 30 km from the second-largest city in Maharashtra, in 2009. What followed was a decade long documentation of the varied fauna of the region that has resulted in a documentary film titled Treasures of Grasslands. It has been doing the rounds of film festivals in India, and was recently screened at the All Living Things Environmental Film Festival.
“When we first started going to the grasslands, we captured the hyena on our cameras, which is a rare animal to spot in broad daylight. Soon after, we spotted the wolf. While initially we were only clicking photographs and had not thought of making a film; eventually, we started shooting videos to document its behaviour,” says Milind Raut, a marketing professional based in Pune, and one of the cinematographers of the film.
When they started telling people about the presence of the species in the region, they realised that not many knew about it, even in the forest department. “Not many had seen the wolf and did not know the difference between it and a jackal. We used to show them photographs and they were in awe. The locals used to call it a baagh. Hence, we decided to make a film to spread awareness about the fauna in the region, as the impact of seeing a moving image is greater than seeing a still image. It’s a starting point for some efforts towards its conservation,” he said.
Spotting their first wolf happened at its own time and pace. “Someone told us there are 25 of them in an area, someone said 20, some told us to return at night. We continued with our recce to find the wolf. Then, on one of our regular outings, at a place where people had told us there used to be wolves but are no longer there, we unexpectedly saw a pair. This was during a trip when we were not actively finding one,” said Raut. The Indian Wolf is a Schedule 1 Species under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
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The team of eight, which has now grown to 14, had to start from scratch, as none of them had any prior experience in filmmaking, editing or production. “We assembled a crew among ourselves and started speaking to filmmakers and editors and picked up skills as we worked. Now everyone is well versed with the medium,” said Mihir Godbole, a diamond jeweller, who is the co-director of the film.
Over the course of the last decade, they scourged the grasslands for all signs of life and interacted extensively with the Dhangar community in the region. In the film, we also meet the Indian fox, striped hyena, the jungle cat and black-naped hare, among others.
The film also highlights how in 2016 the announcement of Purandar international airport gave a boost to the real estate projects around the grasslands, which is an unprotected area. “They started working on these projects and fencing the area which was affecting the habitat. This further gave a purpose to our film. Grasslands are usually neglected and considered wastelands, that’s why we named it Treasures of Grasslands, as people are not aware of the rich fauna in these areas. “However, at the moment, the ecological assessment report is being prepared by the authorities and environmental lobbies are at work,” he said.
The first-time filmmakers said that they had added challenges on the field, as compared to professional filmmakers, as they were working in a human-dominated habitat and with a limited support system. “Tracking animals is also tough as we can’t go regularly as we have our day jobs and when we return, the landscape changes along with animal routes. Our footage is shot over five to six years, unlike other filmmakers who shoot over a season. Moreover, the wildlife in this region is shy and nocturnal,” said Godbole.
However, their film has increased the city-dwellers’ interest in the grasslands and its fauna. “Wildlife photography has found popularity in the last decade and people now want to discover lesser-known wildlife. After we started posting on social media, a lot of people have started visiting these areas, which has boosted the conservation cause that we’re aiming at. More people are talking about it. A decade ago only four to five vehicles were there and now on holidays and weekends, 20-30 vehicles are visiting these grasslands, which is good for awareness but again there should be some regulation,” said Raut.
The Pune-based group, who are on social media as The Grasslands Trust, have now translated the film into Marathi which will be screened for locals in Saswad and the small towns surrounding it. They’re also working smaller series of films that will be shared on social media as “viewer attention is difficult to capture”.
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