Curious grasshoppers, bats with large, brown eyes, a new-born elephant waddling between its mother's towering legs, big cats gazing right into the lens — S.U. Saravanakumar's pictures and films give us a bountiful dose of wildlife at its candid best. And, after a decade of battling torrential rains and leech bites, this 39-year-old is still very much in love with Nature's wild side.
Just back from a 120-day shoot for National Geographic's new three-part series “Wild India”, Saravanakumar is busy setting up his new studio in Egmore. “The series will focus on the wildlife eco-system in North East and Central India and the deserts in the North West region. We concentrated more on the tigers and lions in these areas,” says the wildlife filmmaker and photographer.
While pursuing his Masters in Wildlife Biology at the Wildlife Institute of India, Saravanakumar realised what he really wanted to do was get behind the camera. “I initially did some work for my institute (for documentation) and later ventured out on my own. Since being a wildlife biologist or photographer is difficult to survive on, documentation was the next best thing to do. There's a lot of scope for wildlife filming here,” he says.
With films such as “A Million Snake Bites” and “Crocodile Blues” for BBC Natural World, “Dangerous Towns, Tigers of Sunderbans” for Animal Planet and “Rat Wars” for National Geographic Channel under his belt, it's no surprise that Saravanakumar spends most of the year travelling. “For any shoot, you will be out travelling at least 100 to 150 days. But, that's only the filming time. Your work for the project begins a good few months before it. You've to sort out logistics, places to stay and permissions…”
While patience is considered the greatest virtue when it comes to wildlife filmmaking, this filmmaker's opinion differs. “Patience is good, but not without intelligence. You need to have a good judgement of things, study the eco-system of that forest and know a bit about the animal that you're shooting,” he says.
And with the dawn of the digital era, he feels that photography has picked up so much that the benchmarks for good photographs are now higher. “It's a long learning curve, especially if your focus is only on still photography. The digital camera has made it easier to create an image, and because of that, there's a flood of images online. Now, to be a good photographer, you need to be skilled and catch rare moments. Unfortunately, for this you need expensive equipment, but the corresponding market isn't there,” Sarvaranakumar says.
But those interested in wildlife are also confused as to how to approach it, he says. “I think a lot of people who take Zoology in college are those who love wildlife in some way or the other. Also, there's a lot of interest in wildlife photography and filmmaking now. But the problem is, they don't know whether to take it up as a career or just pursue it as a hobby. When I started out, it took a while to believe I could do it. As a career, like any creative field, it's a blind palette and sometimes unnerving. It's an exciting life, but a hard one and you have to learn to enjoy its uncertainty.”
For details, visit www.saravanakumar.co.in