Award-winning wildlife filmmaker, Mike Pandey speaks to Bhumika Popli about his past work, his future projects, the crisis of wildlife filmmaking in India, and the threat mankind poses to nature.
It was not a surprise to see the Delhi office of wildlife filmmaker Mike Pandey done in green and brown interiors. Perched on the backrest of a chair was his famous khaki hat, which makes you think he has just returned from one of his wildlife adventures. Pandey has made numerous wildlife films, which, over many years, have enlightened viewers on the havocs wreaked on nature by mankind, and the destruction of wildlife.
Q. Could you talk about your major films on wildlife, and how they contributed to social change?
A. It was quite humbling for us when our film Shores of Silence: Whale Sharks in India brought about legislative changes for the whale shark not only in India but also internationally. Other films, such as Vanishing Giants and Vanishing Vultures also taught people the importance of wildlife. Many of our films have won a lot of awards. I use film as a tool to bring serious concerns to the forefront. I think films, if well made, can be effective tools for global change.
Q. Do you think the wildlife filmmaking segment in India is flourishing?
A. I am deeply disappointed, and it’s tragic to a certain extent that the environment, wildlife are at the bottom rung of our priorities and not much is done for them. There is not much scope for these films as distribution is not strong enough. Due to the limited number of platforms to showcase the films, the development is stagnant. There are few wildlife filmmakers who have emerged but they are funded from overseas. In the current scenario, where the ecological balance of nature is disturbed, we need more films. But I think the challenges have to be addressed by us. One needs a spark to start a fire. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am a science student. And I know what’s happening. There is now a concern. When I started in 1994, nobody was making conservation films in India. We still do, whether it gives us the money or not. Somebody has to speak out the truth. I can’t turn my back on certain issues I know about. I can’t have a burning house and walk away from it.
Q. When and how did you discover wildlife filmmaking?
A. I was born in East Africa in Kenya. I got a camera at a very young age. My father was in British Police. Nairobi National Park was literally our backyard. I was surrounded by wilderness. There were all sorts of jungle noises. Lions grumbling, hunters passing by with their zebra herds. There was no fear. Today, the same wilderness I grew up with is in crisis. And instinctively I feel that I should speak out. So maybe I am just a voice for the voiceless. We have to be realistic and see ourselves as transit passengers on this planet. We don’t have to be termites and eat the earth away. I would say empathy and fondness towards the wildlife got me here.
Q. What are the primary tools a wildlife filmmaker should be equipped with?
A. To film wildlife one needs to be ready for the unexpected. One should have the patience of a vulture, the resilience of a bull and the strength of a tiger, to sustain and live even without food for 2-3 days.
Q. Many times wildlife filmmakers are accused of violating the ethical code of filming in nature, posing a threat to animals. What are your views on this?
A. You see, a real wildlife filmmaker will work around the animals. He or she will respect the distance. Also, you can’t record the natural behaviour of animals if you are too close to them. There are rules and norms which ought to be followed.
Q. Could you talk about the Earth Matters Foundation?
A. Earth Matters Foundation is based on a programme on Doordarshan which went by the same name. It was watched by 800 million people across India. It was an interactive program and because it was transmitted in vernacular languages as well, it was such a huge success.The programme explained to the common man the link between his life and nature. Why it is important to save the tiger; why it is important to not use plastic. And why itF is important to go minimal. Those were the values minus the jargon, reaching out to people to bring about change. And I am glad to say that in 2009, TIME magazine did a survey and found that 67% people in India were aware of the environmental concerns, especially in rural India. The programme in a way became the citizens’ science. And hence Earth Matters became a foundation. I also chair an organisation called Earthwatch Institute India, which conducts scientific research to conserve wildlife and environment.
Q. What are you working on next?
A. I have a few projects in my mind. I am trying to go for a new season of Earth Matters. We need content. We need to educate our people and I am hoping that Earth Matters will be revived. It can be the same duration as before, a small programme of five minutes each to inform people of various species and what connections do they have with our lives. Another thing the country really needs in this age of mad rush for progress and acquisition is to encourage people on how to change their lifestyle. Consumerism must take a back seat. The other thing in my mind is how to restore the fragmented ecosystem. We have damaged the earth. We need to restore the jungles that have been wiped out and some crucial species like the Gangetic dolphin. Dolphin is a part of the food chain. As a brand ambassador of Uttar Pradesh’s eco-tourism, I have a proposal to create a dolphin conservation sanctuary in Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh. The government is open to the idea.