‘Wild Animals Will Give You Takes That Are Better Than Al Pacino!’

Supunya Devavrata's film 'Gainda - A Conservation Story' won the Best Wildlife Film - Audience Choice at the Indic Film Utsav in 2020. He shares with Indica Pictures his experiences in the exciting landscape of Kaziranga National Park, where he shot the film. He tells us about the project he is currently working on, and on how dedicated platforms and festivals help build a long lasting body of work during an age of fast viewing, and more. 

What prompted you to tell the story of Gainda's conservation via a short film?

As my first short film, it was a story which needed to be told as well as was sanctioned as a video project from the WildlifeTrust Of India. This combination is what prompted the birth of Gainda : A Conservation Story. 

Enveloped in conservation stories are stories of species to species and man-animal coexistence. Tell us about the beautiful glimpses of this dual coexistence you saw at Kaziranga and its impact on you.

The life in and around Kaziranga is totally unique. Though explored at many levels, it continues to be a destination which offers something new every time you visit. Even for the locals. The peaceful co existence is not something that just happened. It took decades of living in harmony, respect and understanding for this coexistence to flourish. You can find Rhinos in peoples backyards and alongside the main road to Kaziranga. The people respect the species and work towards a consolidated conservation effort.

What were the visual surprises waiting for you at Kaziranga -- from flora and fauna diversity, to the forces of Nature, to your interaction with the landscape?

Kaziranga is a terai landscape. It is also one of the most fiercely guarded jungles in the world. Most importantly, Kaziranga is home to the big four of India - Tiger, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant. This makes this landscape extraordinary. Visually, the jungle is a dynamic mix of various types of grasslands and ecosystems which are quite dense. Within the lush green nature of this jungle, it is often hard to successfully spot animals but when it happens, it's an unforgettable feeling. The rhinos are often the heroes of this park, alongside the highly elusive tiger. Tigers here are extremely shy and wild as compared to the tigers of central India. 

You are working on a project and story of conservation from Gujarat. What is the project about?

This current film titled Mugger, My Neighbour is a documentary that explores the world of wild crocodiles in Gujarat’s Charotar region. The film follows the intimate stories of co-existence between crocodiles and humans in this truly remarkably unique landscape. The project is in collaboration with VNC Gujarat and is currently at the early post production stage. 

What does the 'transition' from one corner of India to another for a different chapter in wildlife conservation tell you -- the director, traveler and Indian, about India's natural heritage?

India's natural heritage and wildlife is perhaps on many levels, the most diverse in the world. The flora and fauna coupled with cultures, traditions, belief systems - is the perfect recipe to be declared the richest country in the world in terms of culture. Every corner of every state has a remarkable story which needs to be told. However, the state of it is in a constant decline, as it has been for a while. Unfortunately, the masses continue to neglect the environment and history. There is an urgent need to revive emotions for things that need saving because after a while, there will be nothing left to save. 

How did the Indic Film Utsav help you build an audience? Tell us the five positive points of this platform.

Confidence, outreach, professionalism, gratitude and honesty. Indic film utsav ticked all five of these markers and I hope to submit some new films in the coming years. 

What attracts you to conservation stories?

My purpose. 

What are the major heroes in the set of equipment you used for filming 'Gainda' and his extended family?

This film was made on a shoestring budget of Rs 7,500. A singular Mirrorless camera and two lenses (50 MM + 70-200 MM) enabled us to film Gainda. And of course, the wonderful hospitality of the Wildlife Trust of India and the people of Assam. 

How can dedicated platforms and festivals help build a long lasting body of work during an age of fast viewing?

Wildlife/conservation storytelling has changed drastically in the past decade. With larger budgets, bigger audiences, OTT platforms and small scale digital platforms, the scope for conservation storytelling has increased dramatically. The style of filmmaking has further been divided into various schools - postmodern, expressionism, neorealism etc. However, the outlook on how to treat a story remains largely unchanged. The use of tools such as Voice-overs, cinematic footage, expensive equipment, as important as they are – can be kept aside. The narrative style of films can be treated in abstract ways, by incorporating new styles of cinematography, hosting, animation, emotions through human characters etc. By instilling a sense of social realism; an emphasis on the authorial expressiveness of the director; and a focus on the thoughts, dreams, or motivations of characters, as opposed to the unfolding of a clear, goal-driven story, we were able to achieve a sort of art house style wildlife film which might hold a lot of potential for an untapped audience.

The theme, pace and style of this film make your work valuable for children and youth. Is this pace and style the future of conservation stories via film?

??I do not think it's the future because I feel it is the present. The majority just know it - yet. Global audiences are shifting to short form content at an unprecedented rate and many organisations already create content to cater this audience. With the environment being in question on a daily basis, the future is already here. 

Would an amalgamation/blend of animation and documentary film, in the telling of conservation stories, work?

Yes, I think so. However, I feel without an emotional angle, the stories will never touch the sky.

Your film on the Greater One-horned Indian Rhinoceros has been made in association with the Wildlife Trust of India, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Assam Forest Association. What role did they play and what were the advantages of collaborating with them?

Wildlife Trust of India works in partnership with IFAW and Assam Forest Department. This project was sanctioned between me and the wildlife trust of India. However, as partners, IFAW and Assam forest department provided outstanding support and access to us. They were very gracious hosts and their expertise certainly helped in creating the narrative.

Films and documentary films that have left a mark on you:

I will never answer this question! The beauty of cinema is too much to consolidate into a few answers.

Do wild animals make good actors?

Wild animals are extremely bright, sensitive and enlightened beings. As opposed to the majority of the actors across the globe. However, if you are able to build trust, respect and if you are able to truly immerse yourself with the species, they will give you takes that are better than Al Pacino!