Wildlife photographers Amoghavarsha and Kalyan Varma led a team of 24 filmmakers to document the rich wildlife of Karnataka for four years. The result is Wild Karnataka, a 52-minute documentary, that flaunts the natural wealth of Karnataka.
Wild Karnataka enjoys the distinction of being the first Indian wildlife film to have a commercial launch in cinemas. The film is narrated by renowned conservationist Sir David Attenborough, and Grammy-winning Ricky Kej has scored the background score.
Excerpts from a conversation with Amoghavarsha:
What was the purpose and intent behind putting together this project?
Kalyan and me have worked for international companies for a long time. And we always wanted to talk about our state and tell a story about our backyard, Karnataka. Given the technology and in-house talent at our disposal, we thought why can’t we make a movie in our backyard. We spoke to the Karnataka forest department and they were very supportive of the whole thing.
Usually, wildlife filmmakers follow certain animals for several years, find a story thread and weave it into a documentary movie. Did you also follow the same method?
We did something similar. But, also slightly different. We knew what were the things that would happen in Karnataka because it is our home. We knew what were the things we could film. We made a list of things that we could potentially film. For example, we know that elephants congregate during summer, or in the monsoons, you can find frogs. Once we had that list, we started shooting. We also had a large team of researchers working with the forest departments and frontline staff. We made sure that we were informed about all the things that were happening in the forests and we would react to it. And of course, when you are on the field, unexpected things happen. I think it was a combined approach.
Is there any specific story we will get to see in Wild Karnataka?
Yes. Quite a few. We also have sequences around tigers, leopards and elephants. These big animals are in the movie for sure. There are also some unseen animals in it. For example, Draco, it is like a flying lizard. There is a sequence where river otters chase a tiger out of water.
So it is not confined to the journey and struggles of one particular animal?
No, we have about 20 different sequences of different animals. And you will see hundreds of species.
Have you just documented the species in forests of Karnataka or you have made a movie, which has a story to tell and captures emotions and leads to some kind of conclusion?
If you see movies like Our Planet or Planet Earth, there are multiple short stories which are all connected. For example, a story of leopard leads to another one.
You shot the documentary for four years. You must have had tons of footage. How did you compress it into a 52-minute movie?
That process was a huge task. One, the data is quite heavy. We eventually had 60 terabytes of data. We faced quite a challenge in terms of technology and scale, even viewing back the footage. The footage was of such high-definition that it wouldn’t even playback on our computers. Four years is a long time. Technology was changing, footage was gathering and sequences had to be cut. We faced different kinds of challenges
Can you explain to us the painstaking work of following animals in jungles for years? It must require a lot of patience.
Sometimes, we would put hidden cameras and leave the area. Animals otherwise don’t behave properly. Sometimes, we would trek into the woods and wait. At other times, we would wait in the jeep for the action to happen. And of course, it takes a lot of patience. We used to stay at jungle lodges and sometimes, you don’t get such facilities. We have filmed in pretty much all the national parks of Karnataka. Each one was a unique and different experience. And also each sequence needed a different kind of equipment.
Were you not tempted to talk about man-animal conflict in your movie?
First, we wanted to show people what is the wealth of the state. Even before they understand what it is, we thought for us to preach about it would be a little premature. Right now the bigger issue is that people don’t even know that Karnataka has so much wildlife. Once they understand it and take pride in it, we can discuss more serious issues.
Did you come face to face with an animal during the filming of this movie?
Actually, no. We are all trained naturalists. We understand animal behaviour and we keep a safe distance from all animals. One, it is an invasion into their lives. Second, it is not safe, and third, you won’t get their proper behaviour. The only big issue we had was leeches and ticks.
What motivated you to release it in cinemas as opposed to OTT platforms?
I think OTT is watched by a certain kind of audience. We wanted it to be watched by every single person, including those who don’t watch wildlife. I mean, what is the point of preaching to the choir? People who already know it will enjoy it. It is good. But, we wanted families and kids to go and watch it. Because it is also educative. We have also finished the Kannada version, which we will be screening at schools all over. Our objective is to maximize the reach. We want every person in India to be able to watch it.