Treading softly in the wild

There are multiple stories within The deer, tree and me , a documentary about one chinkara and its human family

ublic knowledge about the Bishnoi community is focused on the case filed against actor Salman Khan for allegedly killing two chinkaras in 1998. However, their work in conservation has a long history, some of which has been explored by Mumbai-based filmmaker Teenaa Kaur Pasricha in The deer, tree, and me , a 30-minute film that took two years to make. It was commissioned by the Films Division of India.

Pasricha’s entry point into the world of the Bishnois was the story of Shaitan Singh Bishnoi who was murdered in January 2014 for confronting poachers in Rajasthan. She met Singh’s wife, son, father, and other people from the community in Nandeu village near Jodhpur.

The film is in Hindi and Marwari, with English subtitles. It was screened as part of the International Competition section at the recent Mumbai International Film Festival, and is also available on DVD. Pasricha shot in the interiors of Rajasthan, near Jodhpur as well as Phalaudi. Her interest in the subject grew out of her own relationship with nature. Brought up in Ajmer, Pasricha now lives in Mumbai.

A feature narrative

She says, “I stay at Aarey Colony in Mumbai, which is a forest. And I feel bad for the leopard who is always blamed for attacking human beings. Actually, the forest belongs to the leopard who cannot advocate for his rights even though the land has been taken over by the builders for construction. That’s when I decided to take a stand, and talk on behalf of animals and plants that do not have a voice.”

The deer, tree and me is a documentary film that has been edited like a feature narrative. There are no external commentators or experts here. The people who speak in the film belong to the community. Therefore, Pasricha feels no compulsion to introduce them in terms of their work or designation. She also allows the camera to capture silences, which effectively carry the story on their shoulders.

Significant voice

“The hunter who shot Shaitan Singh is behind bars in Jodhpur Jail,” Pasricha says, “but the legal battle is still on. The two men who were accompanying him have been released on bail.”

Shaitan Singh’s wife Pushpa is the most significant voice in the film. They got married when she was just two years old, and started living together when she turned 18. After his death, her life now revolves around their son Piyush, and a baby chinkara that she looks after. She does not want to get married again.

Her pain and loneliness are communicated powerfully through shots of her sitting quietly by the memorial the community has built in honour of her husband, who is recognised as a martyr.

Pushpa is committed to the cause her husband died for. The fragile chinkara receives as much of her love as her own child. There is some beautiful footage of ‘sibling rivalry’ between them. While the animal is being fed milk from a bottle, the child throws a tantrum to claim his mother’s attention.

Pasricha says, “The chinkara is a shy and sensitive animal. I had to adopt many tricks while filming it. That was a challenge. I was not well-equipped with expensive lenses. The budget was tight, and shooting was done in many rounds. The editing itself went for almost a year.”

The chinkara is a kind of gazelle found in India, Iran and Pakistan. It is sometimes mistaken for a deer but is a different species altogether. The Bishnoi community’s affection for the chinkara is rooted in their faith in Jambheshwar, a religious leader who made it mandatory to protect wildlife and forbade the felling of trees. Bishnois not only tend to injured animals but also organise a dignified burial for chinkaras who die of dog bites. They consider it their duty to respond to any distress signals made by the chinkara, a name that literally means ‘the one who sneezes’. It comes from the word chhink meaning sneeze.

Incorporating nature

The sneeze-like sound, made by chinkaras when they are alarmed, has also been incorporated into the film’s sound design. The rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds, folk songs sung by women in the village, and gusts of wind in the desert, are all part of the film’s aural landscape.

“I wanted people to take notice of these things, which are so ignored in the noise of the city,” says Pasricha. The cinematography works with the same intention. Gorgeous sunsets, people working in the fields, sparrows pecking at grain, and peacocks strolling by, are images that linger long after the credits roll.

She hopes that her film will create greater awareness about this case, and also make audiences think of how human beings can live in harmony with other beings.

Contact for a DVD of the film

The author is a freelance writer

Teenaa Kaur Pasricha hopes her film will make audiences think of how human beings can live in harmony with other beings

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 8:16:17 AM |

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