For the show business to avoid cruelty to animals, all it must do is just follow simple guidelines

Show business can be awfully hard on animals. The on-screen footage represents only a fraction of their experience of being used in television commercials and movies. While there might not be any cruelty in the scene itself, there is risk of negligence or mistreatment before and after the shooting.

“When an animal is taken to the sets for film shooting, there is a possibility of cruelty in transport; the animal/s may be made to stand in the sun or rain on the sets; there may not be water, let alone food for the many hours or days it is kept there; it may be tethered with a short rope or chain; or be roughly brought down to the ground whereas the film may only show it sitting on the ground,” says Chinny Krishna, vice-chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).

Regular monitoring

Every Thursday afternoon, Krishna and a committee of people, including representatives from the Central Board of Film Certification get together at the AWBI headquarters in Thiruvanmiyur to review video clips submitted by producers of commercials and films and tally what they see with the applications that the filmmakers send in, to check that animal abuse in the name of entertainment is avoided. The group (that includes members from the worlds of both animal welfare and entertainment) monitors the use of animals in Indian films and commercials using a simple set of guidelines.

Whether the animals are just in the background for a ‘natural shot’ or they are actively involved in the scene, a filmmaker must adhere to these rules. The first step is the filling up of a brief pre-shoot application form available on www.awbi.org and submitting it along with a veterinary fitness certificate, plus a permission letter from the animal’s owner. This form is sent in along with registration fee of Rs. 500 and a synopsis of the animal’s part in the scene. Some of the guidelines include not making the animal do anything unnatural and to have a vet available on the shooting spot, should an emergency arise.

Wild animals in the background require additional permission from the Wildlife Department, while some wild species are banned from being used in shooting according to the recent Performing Animal Rules — this list includes lions, tigers, panthers, bears, bulls and monkeys, although they can be shown in background shots or using stock shots of films. As for birds, Krishna reveals that the Supreme Court has held that they cannot be shown in cages. “While the AWBI did not frame the rules, we’re in full agreement with the ‘no birds in cages’ rules,” he says. And finally, a post-shoot fitness certificate from a veterinarian is required to show that the animal was not hurt during the shoot. If a filmmaker fails to follow the application process, the AWBI can issue a show cause notice to the production company.

While a solid set of rules is in place to protect animals’ interests, there is further reason for cheer — modern production houses are increasingly choosing to do away with the use of real animals in film, opting for computer-generated ones instead. Movies such as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, for example, used only computer-generated apes.

Closer home, Mumbai-based Triangle Film Company, makers of the successful television show Devon Ke Dev… Mahadev is an example of how creativity benefits from using visual effects. “When Mahadev got married to Parvati and was sitting on the Nandhi, he was actually seated on an animated bull,” says Amish Vasani, project head. “We mostly use computer-generated imagery (CGI) of animals — animated elephants, bulls, crocodiles, ducks... We use only domesticated animals in shooting and adhere to the guidelines.” Also CGI “saves a lot of time in shooting. And there are more realistic shots when we use visual effects”. As a bonus, when a simulated animal is used, the filmmaker can sidestep the application process and apply post-shoot for a No Objection Certificate.

(Guidelines for filmmakers)