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Hollywood in the real world

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RIGHT APPROACH Shekar Dattatri: `Television can't be a medium for bombarding the viewer with images of gloom and doom'
RIGHT APPROACH Shekar Dattatri: `Television can't be a medium for bombarding the viewer with images of gloom and doom'

Discovery Channel's new series, Planet Earth, has a Hollywood approach to wildlife filmmaking, says Shekar Dattatri

In all the talk about a smaller, globalised world, it is often easy to forget the sheer magnitude and magnificence of the world we inhabit. For those looking for that fascinating reminder, Discovery Channel has a new series called Planet Earth kicking off this month. Speaking at a promotion for the show in the city, wildlife filmmaker and four-time National Award Winner, Shekar Dattatri, said: "The show is unprecedented. Nothing on this scale has been attempted before." The most fascinating aspect of the series, which showcases footage of some of the most rare species of wildlife, is that a new dimension has been added by simultaneously shooting action sequences from the ground and from the air, he explains. "A lot of the footage has been shot using a gyro stabilised 360 degree video capture system, mounted on a helicopter, which hasn't been attempted before because of the expenses and resources involved. Aerial camerawork has always been used in Hollywood, so you could say that this series has a Hollywood approach to wildlife filmmaking." The result of the stunning expense and effort on the series, he points out, is rare material such as snow leopards hunting, a wild giant panda nursing her week-old baby and so on. For the sceptics in the crowd that don't see much point to wildlife programming that doesn't strongly push forth a specific conservation message, Dattatri points out that a strong message isn't always needed. And if one pushes a heavy agenda all the time, viewers are bound to be turned off. "If there are no wildlife programmes, then all people will be watching is KBC or cricket or Antakshari and they won't have any idea of the real world. The real world is outside, in the mountains, in the forests where the rivers are born... without all that, this world we live in will collapse. We have to bring the real world into people's lives, and the best medium for that is television," says the filmmaker, whose journey into wildlife conservation began with a stint as a volunteer at the Madras Snake Park run by Romulus Whitaker and later as an assistant on an educational film called Snakebite.

The limitations

Television does have its limitations, he admits. "TV is primarily a medium of entertainment. It can't be a medium for bombarding the viewer with images of gloom and doom." But, he says, convergence can make all the difference, because a view-on-demand medium like the internet can help reach out to the more interested, proactive viewer whose curiosity has been aroused by the generalised programming that appears on television. Shekar says, although the idea of conservation as a pastime of the well off is strongly prevalent in the country, it is an urgent and pressing need of all people. "We all breathe the same oxygen, drink the same water, whether one is a tycoon or a pavement dweller. And when an environmental crisis happens, it is always the poor that are most affected. If there is a water shortage, it is the poor who have to wait in line all night for one jar of drinking water."

Prohibitive costs

Wildlife filmmaking in the country, laments Shekar, is a far cry from what it should be, primarily because of the prohibitive costs alone. "All the equipment is highly specialised and has to be imported. Besides the high costs, one also has to pay a lot on duties. And when access to wildlife sanctuaries was opened up about 15 years ago, and foreign crews with big budgets rushed in, filming fees were greatly inflated. This is killing Indian wildlife filmmaking and if nothing is done then it will die out in my generation." The resultant fees that the government receives are a pittance, says Shekar. Instead, if more documentary films are made and screened around the world, that is millions worth of free advertising for the country, he counters. Discovery Channel's Planet Earth is being screened on Thursdays at 8 p.m, with a repeat telecast at 6 p.m. on Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. RAKESH MEHAR

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