New dos and don’ts have been prescribed for the way animals and birds can be picturised. So some filmmakers are opting for computergenerated jaanwars.. while others are treating them better than their best friends, reports Roshmila Bhattacharya.
It may not have rocked the box office but Tahaan did engage the discerning viewer. So did its ensemble cast of actors, not to forget the catalyst of the story, donkey Birbal.
Director Santosh Sivan says, “I got a call from a woman who had just seen the film. She wanted to know if my next movie could feature her three cats.” A decade ago, he had made Halo about a lost dog. After that, art director Sabu Cyril’s daughter started checking on her puppy every night to make sure it was still there.
For Tahaan, Sivan gave his child star four to five days to get acquainted with his new friend. “Since Purav (Bhandare) fed him apples and didn’t put heavy loads on his back, Birbal would perk up whenever he saw the boy. So the shoot went off smoothly. Today, if I call someone a donkey, I mean it as a compliment,” Sivan chuckles.
But depiction of birds and animals has often set off a flutter. Rajkumar Kohli was pulled up for using pigeons in a song in Qahar (1997). Maneka Gandhi pointed out that according to the Prevention of Cruelty Act of 1960, throwing birds in the air is illegal. And according to Section 11, anyone who confines an animal with a view to providing entertainment is liable to be punished. Eventually the song sequence Junglee kabootar was cleared with two cuts.
There have been sporadic instances since then. On April 29, 2005, the Supreme Court issued a notice to Dharma Productions after Maneka Gandhi pointed out that Kaal had been filmed at the Jim Corbett National Park, without “proper” permission from the chief wildlife warden as required under the Wildlife Protection Act. She insisted that the lions, pythons, tigers and monkeys had been cruelly handled. The notice did not hold up the release of the film. But Rang De Basanti was pushed back by a week following Gandhi’s allegations that the producers had shot a sequence with horses without permission from the Animal Welfare Board of India.
Activists into action
According to Gandhi, RDB’s makers had applied for permission as late as December 25. Yet, the film was cleared by the Censor Board. It was eventually released on January 26, 2006, with the scene intact. More recently, Jodhaa Akbar was investigated after the NGO, People for Animals, filed a police complaint and a public lawsuit against Ashutosh Gowariker’s production house on the grounds that 80 elephants, 100 horses and 55 camels were made to stand for long hours in the sun, fully decked, with no vet around. Now the board has imposed a blanket ban on the use of lions, tigers, panthers and monkeys in films.
A circular issued to all the film associations has prescribed 26 new dos and don’ts. No animals can be filmed on hard surfaces, farmyards with other animals around or near barbed wires. They cannot be used in scenes in which explosives go off or made to travel for more than eight hours at a stretch. A certificate of registration will not be issued without pre-shoot permission from the board.
Filmmakers have described the dos and don’ts as “impractical.” Also, animals can be temperamental. Hemant Mehta, the owner of Mohini, the eagle who was Govinda’s pet in Maharaja, says the bird underwent a 15-day training but then just wasn’t in the ‘mood’ to fly to Manisha Koirala’s help.
“We waited four days to can the shot,” he recalls. The owner of the monkey in Aankhen reportedly demanded five-star treatment. Producers like Pahlaj Nihalani pamper these buddy beasts, sometimes more than the stars, praying that no mishap happens to them. An animal dying on the sets is every filmmaker’s nightmare.
That happened to Goldie Behl last year when a horse died within hours of reaching the Drona sets in Bikaner. The Bishnoi community reported the incident to the People for Animals and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, pointing out that the horse had been cremated before a post-mortem. And Behl had to move to Namibia to complete the film. Not surprisingly, for Krrish Rakesh Roshan chose to shoot all footage showing animals in Singapore where it is easier to get permission.
Brought to notice
Percept Picture Company’s C’mon Pappu will give Akshay Kumar a computer-generated chimp. Says Percept’s Rohit Arora, “We will be using animatrix and fly in experts from the U S. So we will still be able to give you a Pappu who looks real.”
The chief magistrate’s court of Bhuj has kept the Lagaan controversy going by issuing warrants against Aamir Khan, his former wife Reena Datta, director Ashutosh Gowariker, cameraman Anil Mehta and executive Shrinivasa Rao of Lagaan for failing to respond to repeated notices.
In August 2006, the Gujarat Forest Department had sent Khan the first notice alleging that he had violated the Wildlife Protection Act and filmed with a chinkara without prior permission in the Kutch district. Lagaan was released in 2001. Khan had later argued that the deer was computer generated. Where do computers leave our animal trainers? Afzal Animal Company has now become Afzal Magic Showwala. “I used to supply snakes to films but after the law was introduced and the media started writing about animal cruelty, business suffered. Now I conduct magic shows at birthday parties and Ganpati pandals,” Afzal sighs.
Mohini, the eagle, who used to earn around Rs 5000 a day, is also bekaar after the TV serial Chandrakanta. Its owner who found her on the beach, wounded, 20 years ago, says the eagle accompanies him to his vacations to his gaon in Gujarat. “Sometimes she takes off on a holiday alone. She flew off just this morning and I won’t see her for the next few days,” says Mehta. “But she’ll be back. She’s my buddy.”