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Wielding the camera to speak out for a cause

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A film-maker who makes films not for money but to make a difference, Mike Pandey has emerged as a relentless crusader for the cause of wildlife conservation, says Bindu Shajan Perappadan... Often called the one-man army in the field of wildlife conservation, Mike Pandey and his camera have for over three decades now kept up a relentless crusade of sorts to lobby for what he claims is "his passion, obsession and life''.

"Enough noise is being made about conservation, but sadly it is just a load of direction-less talks and paperwork. Some action is being taken no doubt, but I am baffled by the fact that human beings don't realise the simple law of nature, which states that we need our flora and fauna to sustain ourselves as a species. What we are doing, however, is to eat rapidly into our natural resources, pump our food chain with pesticides and play havoc with it. We then make fools of ourselves talking and worrying about pesticides in our cold drinks, when we are together working towards a sure destruction. Human beings have forgotten the basic lessons of conservation,'' says the world-renowned filmmaker.

Worried and even angry, Mike is still hopeful though.

"Long after I first began my work, I now have concentrated and narrowed down my efforts to work for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphins, elephants, tigers, vultures and horseshoe crabs. Our recklessness is resulting in their population dwindling fast,'' says Mike, whose son has now joined him and is establishing himself as a filmmaker.

For Mike, he claims it is like seeing a virtual re-run of his own life that began with not much ado in a small house in Kenya somewhere near the Nairobi National Park. What started as just plain curiosity for a young boy about nature and wildlife soon became a passion and a life-long mission.

While Mike claims to be unable to pinpoint when exactly he decided that conservation was his vocation, he still remembers the gift of his first camera.

"My encounter with the camera began when I was seven; my uncle presented me with a Kodak camera on my birthday. Later my brother and I went on to study and train in the United Kingdom and the United States where we got an opportunity to get training in Hollywood as interns. Later we worked in India as director of special effects and war scenes in films like "Razia Sultan", "Betaab" and "Gazab" says Mike.

"However, the call of the wild was strong and I decided to stay back in India and work for the conservation of wildlife. The pull was too strong for me to ignore and now thirty years after I first made my decision to stay back and make films, I have no fat bank balance to show off but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am among the few people who got a chance to follow the dictate of the heart,'' says Mike, who is currently busy working with the Chhattisgarh Government to create an elephant corridor.

Mike has over the years done a lot of work with the elephants and the man-animal conflict related to these gentle giants. With his film "The Last Migration -- Wild Elephant Capture in Sarguja'', Mike became the first Asian producer/director to win the Wildscreen Panda Award also known as the Green Oscar in 1994. He won the award again in 2000, for "Shores of Silence - Whale Sharks'', a film that initiated a movement to protect the whale sharks eventually leading to a ban on their killing on Indian shores. This film also won a National Award for the Best Film in the "Exploration and Adventure'' category in 2005.

Mike won the Green Oscar again in 2004 for his film "Vanishing Giants'' -- a story of his passion and involvement with elephants. This film also led to a ban on cruel and outdated techniques of elephant capture in India.

"I want my films to make a difference. I don't make films to make money but to initiate a change locally, nationally and globally. As I understand, the Government can be slow and may be even unconcerned but I have to bring out issues and create an atmosphere where conservation is not something that a handful of people demand but is a global responsibility. I make film from my heart, which is why they carry the power to bring about a change,'' says Mike.

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