Poacher cast exclusive interview: ‘This is the work one can only do selflessly’ | Web Series - Hindustan Times

Poacher cast exclusive interview: ‘This is kind of work one can only do selflessly’

Feb 26, 2024 06:25 AM IST

In this exclusive interview, creator Richie Mehta and actors Roshan Mathew and Dibyendu Bhattacharya open up about creating the new Prime Video series Poacher.

Poacher has been receiving unanimous praise from critics and viewers ever since it released on Prime Video last week. The eight-episode long series marks the return of director Richie Mehta after his International Emmy-winning show Delhi Crime. Based on true events, the masterful show takes place in the jungles of Kerala, where a team of dedicated forest range officers and other members follow a trail of investigation on the illegal ivory trade.

Roshan Mathew and Nimisha Sajayan in a still from Poacher.
Roshan Mathew and Nimisha Sajayan in a still from Poacher.

In this exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, creator Richie Mehta along with actors Roshan Mathew (who played Alan Joseph), and Dibyendu Bhattacharya (who played Field Director of the Kerala Forest Department, Neel Banerjee), sat down for an extensive chat about the process of approaching this important story, shooting on location, and the effect this experience had on them. (Also read: Poacher review: Richie Mehta delivers a brilliantly atmospheric tale on illegal ivory trade)

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Congratulations on Poacher. I first watched three episodes of it at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it ended on a cliffhanger. I wondered all this while when will it release and now, here we are. What was happening in between?

Roshan: For us, it has been two years since we finished shooting! (laughs)

Richie: Yeah, almost. I will tell you what's happened. It was the animals. We had finished the first three episodes with the animals, but the rest were not done at that time. We needed time and as you can tell it required work and had to be flawless. I was not going to rush it with the team with whom we were working on, specially that aspect to the story. I think it is very unique and very special. I wanted to make sure that once it goes out to everybody, that we had done everything we can. So it took time.

You had said previously that you had first read about this particular ivory raid incident back in 2015, while you were making India in a Day. Cut to now, it took nine years to make this show. Of course, in between you had the release of two seasons of Delhi Crime and there was a global pandemic. Was there a research process that was always on during this time?

Richie: Yes, it was. After India in a Day, when I learned about it in 2015, I was still writing and financing Delhi Crime. My mind was in that zone and I needed to go through that journey. I never forgot that bit, in fact in Delhi Crime in episode 1, there is a scene where Rasika Dugal's character finds tusks in a random traffic stop. I was putting things in Delhi Crime, making sure that I did not forget to do Poacher afterwards, as a note to myself.

While I was in post-production of Delhi Crime I started the research process on Poacher. Now I didn't begin that process by thinking of doing it as an eight-part thriller and wildlife crime series. I began this process just to understand it more for my own perspective on the world. Then, it began to translate to how interesting and complex; and how the world could benefit seeing this. It formed over time.

Roshan Mathew in a still from Poacher.
Roshan Mathew in a still from Poacher.

The shooting process of Poacher must have been on location I believe, where all the cast and crew must have spent time in those forests. To Roshan and Dibyendu Sir, I am curious to know about your process of approaching these characters, because you are here playing people who have done the work.

Roshan: For me, the shoot was incredible. Looking back at it now, it has been one of the most exciting shoots that I have been part of. One of the best teams that I have worked with. We had so much part shooting this serious, dark crime thriller about ivory poaching that it feels almost wrong to say it but we really did have a lot of fun shooting it. One part of that is because of the character that I get to play. His name is Alan Joseph, and he works at the Wildlife Trust of India. He is many things in life that I am not. He is very distant from me. Overall, he is a fun, energetic and proactive guy. He knows how to get things done. He has his own inventive, jugaru ways of getting things done. The way he carries out these tasks that are very important to him end up helping the investigation. A lot of this was in the script. It was one of those scripts where I read and I immediately wanted to shoot for it.

Then, of course, I got to talk to this real person, who Alan Joseph was based on. His name is Jose Louies; an incredible person doing some incredible things in life. I got to speak to him, I got to meet him a couple of times. That definitely helped, and brought in a flavour to this performance. While I was working, I was wondering how Jose would react in this situation. What would he be like in this situation? That was an interesting process on, which again I reconfirmed with Richie or what's written in the script.

Dibyendu: Same here. When I read the script, it created quite an impression. At that particular point of time in my career I was doing a couple of things, all together. I was always focused on how I would do this series, that dates iska baaki kisi ke saath clash nahi karna chahiye. Jabhi bhi dates iske aayenge iske dates solid hone chahiye (The dates for this series must not clash with any other work. Whenever the dates for this series arrives, it must be solid). This is a real life-based character named Amit Mullick. In the script, the character had many layers, some parts of it were dramatized. Then when you know about these wildlife crime fighters, I felt the need to know about their stories as part of the cohesive series. At the end of the day, I am reacting to them and I am receiving information from them. It was an important part, because he did it in such a genuine and natural way, so I had to live through the process. I loved the process of shooting Poacher.

Nimisha Sajayan and Dibyendu Bhattacharya in a still from Poacher.
Nimisha Sajayan and Dibyendu Bhattacharya in a still from Poacher.

I am curious to know a little about how all of you worked on the syntax of the show, as Poacher has a lot of Malayalam dialogues and then there is Dibyendu Sir who also speaks in Bengali, which is a delight to see. How do you direct actors in a language in a language that you don't speak in and how were the actors contributing to that process.

Richie: The process was very laborious, involving lots of tricks and balances. I wrote the series in English, and I basically labelled what dialogue needs to be in Malayalam, knowing the real people this is inspired by. Obviously, Hindi is not an issue for me, but I don't know Bengali although it becomes easier for me to recognize what's working or not working. But certainly, the Malayalam was a big challenge for me. We had an amazing Malayalam dialogue writer, Gopan, who came in, and we had lots of discussion about the script. He understood that I needed to keep it as close to the English translation as we could, because the language was inspired by the real case. I had to stick to the facts. I could not deviate much from the process.

On set, we would read, re-read and cross-check with the translation, and while shooting, every morning, we would sit in the vanity van and go through every scene. Roshan was very intuitive about checking it multiple times, and adding in for little cracks when it did not translate that well into Malayalam. So, yeah it was a challenge but we did it again during post-production where if something slipped through that they didn't quite track, we would fix it in dubbing. But in many cases, I knew, like when Dibyendu was speaking Bengali, that it was his thought language. I knew that even if he deviates and it totally okay. The essence was there, and the same goes for Roshan.

Roshan: I never looked at this as a hurdle. It was very, very exciting for me. For a very years now I have been thinking that in a country like India we really need more multilingual projects. We are not living at a time where one has to be restricted to one language. All the actors can handle three languages or more. Dibyendu can handle four. He is actually speaking in Malayalam also in this show! (laughs) It is also very interesting to note that all the work which Richie mentioned did not feel like tough labour because it was so exciting and also during the shoot, Richie would still be able to catch when a line was delivered dishonestly, even if it was not in a language that he understood. He knows what the conversation is about in a scene, and it has had multiple times that I had to walk up and go that I needed another go for a shot and Richie knew exactly which moment I had meant.

Richie: I loved watching Dibyendu's scenes in Bengali. They were such a pleasure to watch.

Dibyendu: The whole series is about life, and if tomorrow if I go to Kerala, I have to communicate with them in some manner. As artists also we are communicating in a similar manner. It is as easy as that. Multilingual projects should happen more often, because it is so real. Roshan must know this as well, where I know I can work on a scene to bring out its essence, honesty and truth. If that is delivered, everything is fair.

Lastly, I want to highlight how Poacher brings forward its argument for altruism with so much care and attention. I am curious whether there has been any incident that has changed your outlook towards the world in some fashion.

Richie: Roshan implied it earlier. Every time I meet these real people on whom this story is based, I see that they haven't stopped. This operation that we show happened in 2015. It was nine years ago for them. They have done things since then and when you meet them now, they have gone into something else. So I get inspired by the fact that I take five years to tell the story of one of their exploits and they have done a hundred things since then. What I get inspired by is that if you are a true altruist, and doing this for the good of all life, that is an attitude in your heart which is not project-specific and doesn't ask for gratification. I am immensely and consistently inspired by that.

Roshan: This is the kind of work one can only do selflessly, because if you go into it with any other attitude, you will probably end up being disappointed. For me, I have been in this curve where I have been on this curve of growing consciousness where my curiosity helps. There are so many relevant issues out there that you need to educate yourself with. Poacher was one of those very, very important chapter in my life where I was flooded with information I did not have before, and I kept meeting more and more people who inspired me. Not just the real-life people on whom these characters are based on but also people from our crew, and somebody who would project like this. The reason why Richie would spend so much time of his life working on something like this. It wasn't easy by any means, and yeah there were a lot of things that inspired me and I hope that continues.

Dibyendu: Same here. When you know about them, you see how life does not stop for these people. I had a general awareness but after doing this project and meeting these people, there has been a shift in terms of perspective in me. I promise that I will be more aware towards my society and my nature.

Poacher is available to stream on Prime Video.

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