During the shoot of an upcoming television series, Hidden India, executive producer Julian Hector got a chance to witness the relationship between nature and humanity. “We were filming in the flood water of the Ganges and saw that the waters were pushing venomous snakes into the villages. Many people die of snake bites each year, but, surprisingly, none of these snakes are harmed. People’s acceptance of nature, despite its ruthlessness, was interesting,” says Hector, who also heads the BBC’s natural history unit, which is best known for its documentaries.
While various facets of India’s indigenous wildlife have already been captured in popular media, there are many tales that remain to be told. Hidden India, which premieres this weekend to coincide with World Earth Day, highlights the lesser-known stories that celebrate the country’s wildlife and natural history — a genre that Hector has over two decades of experience in.
Known for award-winning programmes, such as World on the Move (2008) and David Attenborough’s Life Stories (2009), Hector’s shows are lauded for highlighting the connection between natural and human environments and tackling questions of conservation. Towards that end, Hidden India is divided into three sections — Lands of Change, which depicts the seasonal changes and how animals adapt to them; Land of Mountains, where the Western Ghats are explored; Land of Rivers that maps the course of the Ganges and portrays how hidden beaches are a haven for young turtles.
“The first episode is about climatic change when the land dries up after the monsoon, and how animals get accustomed to it by migrating. Another episode focusses on India’s mountains. While a lot of stories have been told about the Himalayas, many people don’t know that there are other mountains in India,” adds Hector.
Hector, who has visited New Delhi and Kolkata in the past, admits that shooting the series was an eye-opener for him as he got to spot rare species. “When we went to film the Indian one-horned rhinoceros at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, we saw the pygmy hog, the smallest and rarest wild pig on the planet,” he says.
Additionally, he spotted the elusive purple frog at the Western Ghats: “This amphibian spends 10 months and 50 weeks of the year hidden underground and digs itself out and finds a mate only when it rains. For me, it was a lovely example of a story that no one had told before and fitted perfectly with the theme.”
Among the many places that Hector visited for this series, he admits that the Kaziranga National Park in Assam is his favourite. “It has such diverse grassland and wild animals, like the Asian elephant and the Indian one-horned rhino, which are spectacular,” he says.
The road ahead
The shoot was a challenge for Hector and his team, who planned everything from scratch and worked towards getting filming permits. “There was also a possibility that what we want to film might not be there. After all, no one can confirm or predict the events of the natural world. However, the most liberating thing about India is that no matter where you are, there are always people with specialised skills willing to help you,” he says.
Hector is not done with India yet; he intends to explore the ways in which Indians incorporate the natural world into their heritage through symbols of animals in their religions and daily lives. “I would love to spend more time in the subcontinent and tell these stories,” he says.
Hidden India will premiere on Earth Day, April 22, 9 pm, on Sony BBC Earth