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Call of the jungle

Nita Sathyendran
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Film Majeed Gulistan's film ‘Chitrakuzhal' is an attempt to bring children closer to nature. Nita Sathyendran

G etting the message of “globally important local issues” across to children, without it being too high-brow, is no mean task. Not to mention packaging the message in such a way that, in addition to enjoying what is essentially a suspense thriller – albeit a watered down one – children (and adults too) come away actually learning something from it. That is what writer-director Majeed Gulistan has attempted to do with his children's film ‘Chitrakuzhal' (The Bird Watcher), which was released in Kerala last week.

Sensitising children

“It's an attempt to bring children closer to nature, what with their sensibilities under deluge by what goes for modern cinema and television. Besides, there's not much happening in the genre of children's films, I wanted to make a film that would sensitise children to the global environmental issues that we face; issues such as wildlife and environmental protection, impact of globalisation on ethnic culture, global warming, climate change and so on, which desperately need their attention and understanding,” says Majeed.

In the film, these pertinent issues are narrated through the eyes of a young tribal boy, Virudhan (young Amal Ashok of ‘Kathaparayumbol' fame), who is nicknamed the ‘bird catcher' because his classmates believe that he catches birds to eat. When Virundhan's classmate Charu (Sidhardhan), the son of a forest ranger, is kidnapped by ivory poachers, it's up to the forest-savvy Virundhan to save his friend. On the run from the poachers, the duo chance upon Amina (Meera Nair), their classmate who has gotten lost in the forest.

Together the three children get caught up in an adventure of a lifetime, with Charu and Amina learning many things about the forest, its flora and fauna, tribal lifestyles, myths, deforestation and so on.

“The journey and its experiences eventually transform the children into sharing and concerned human beings with better values,” says Majeed, a freelance filmmaker and graduate of the Institute of Film Technology, Adayar, Chennai. He won the state award for best documentary in 1991 for the environmental film ‘Teak.' ‘Chitrakuzhal' is his first feature film, after having directed over 30 documentaries.

“It was a physically challenging shoot,” says the director, who shot the film in the pristine jungles of the Agastyamalai Biosphere Reserve, Peppara and Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuaries in Thiruvananthapuram district – visuals of which stand out in the film. The crew had to get permission from the Department of Forests to shoot in the area, apart from travelling by jeep and even trekking to remote locations, equipment and all. “We had to finish shooting by 5 p.m. as it was not safe in the jungle afterwards. Most days we would set up a frame and return to see that it had been destroyed by elephants the previous night. But the entire cast and crew, including the children, were too enthusiastic to let these small hurdles deter them. The end result was worth it,” adds Majeed.

I wanted to make a film that would sensitise children to global environmental issues


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