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Once upon an elephant

I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which cinematographers track down and capture brilliant images of plants and animals. Shantanu Moitra explores documentary films...

india Updated: Feb 09, 2009, 17:46 IST
Unusual suspects | Shantanu Moitra
Unusual suspects | Shantanu Moitra
Hindustan Times

I’m a huge fan of documentary films, especially the wildlife kind. Who hasn’t seen David Attenborough’s The Life Of Mammals, Life On Earth and Life In Cold Blood.

I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which cinematographers track down and capture brilliant images of plants and animals.

Thanks to one of my friends, I met one of the world’s best cinematographers, who has worked primarily with the legendary Attenborough — Richard Kirby.

I’d expressed a desire to meet Richard for a project. Some time ago, he dropped into my recording studio in Bandra. We chatted for hours.

The first thing that struck me about the Emmy Award winning cinematographer was he was completely passionate about the world and concerned about its fragility.

India connect
Over cups of tea, he told me about his encounters with pygmies, giant anacondas, monkeys and his visits to some of the most beautiful places in the world where man has not yet set foot.

He has been bitten countless times by snakes and chased by many animals. Funny, but he has chased an elephant! Oh, what a life! Yet, of all the places in the world, Richard loves India.

Something about our country attracts him. He is most passionate about the Indian elephant. He showed me the trailer of a
feature film, Once Upon An Elephant, which he was directing.

It revolved around the relationship between a small boy and an elephant. The visuals were breathtakingly beautiful but the feature that stood out in his visual show was the emotional quotient, a quality which most Englishmen lack.
There was a reason why he wanted to make this film. He had travelled all over the world and realised that wildlife conservation was restricted to tigers. No one bothers about elephants. Cities have sprung up by encroaching upon their natural habitats.

Attention please
The Indian government initiated ‘controlled logging’ for forest preservation. They have banned the use of elephants for logging purposes. But the poor villagers couldn’t afford to keep these elephants any more and were forced to set them free. And these elephants couldn’t have survived in the wild.

Richard believed that something had to be done to save these elephants. His film draws attention to these neglected but wonderful creatures. It’s amazing how nature unites the world that we as humans attempt to divide.

Here was a Brit who was so concerned about the plight of the Indian elephant that he made their preservation the mission of his life.

Richard was a big fan of Bollywood songs and we listened to quite a few. His face broke into a smile as he revelled in the rhythm and beat of these songs.

Way with animals
He invited me to Jaipur where he was shooting. He wanted to introduce me to his friends and family. I asked him how he had managed to make a home in Jaipur.

With his typical British humour, he told me that he was referring to the monkeys.. they had been living there for years.
Apparently, Richard is so good with animals that he can communicate with them effectively. They seem to know exactly
what kind of shot he wants, when to look into the camera and how to irritate him by being uncooperative.

I’m about to embark on a very important journey across India for a documentary. With Richard accompanying me, it will be one hell of a journey.

(The writer is a music composer)

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