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Deccan Herald » Fine Art / Culture » Detailed Story
The final frontier
Wildlife filmmaker Harry Marshall tells Dipti Nair it is the final countdown to combat Climate Change.


There’s a particular scene in the film, ‘The Mountains of the Monsoon,’ where a pack of Dholes or Indian wild dogs seem to be frolicking in the waters. Jumping on each other in a mock fight, the dogs then separate and one runs along the water’s edge while the other remains in the water splashing away as if for attention. It comes as a shock when one realises that this is no mating ritual that the filmmakers have been able to shoot after long painstaking waits behind the bushes.

The scene unfolding before our eyes is in fact of the planning and scheming among the wild dogs to kill a Sambar faun who was unfortunate to have found himself in the lake with his mother. The dogs, meanwhile, have managed to isolate the faun from his mother and are slowly surrounding him. In no time, two of them have him by the throat and are dragging him towards the banks where the other pack members pounce on the prey to make a meal of it.

The whole scene is probably just a blink-and-you-miss it — nothing like an elaborate chase-and-hunt scenes between a magnificent tiger and its prey one is used to watching on the ‘Animal Planet’. Yet, it is a very poignant pointer to how we perceive our natural environment and the associated Climate Change that is threatening to burn a hole through our atmosphere.

Climate Change, like that Dholes-chasing scene, is not something that will hit us one day in a spectacular manner. It is happening right now all around us — the extreme heat and cold, the unseasonal rains, more droughts and floods. It is just that we feel a pack of wild dogs are not capable of much damage. But as every naturalist will tell you, a cunning pack of wild dogs has the capacity to bring down even an elephant.

The British Council sponsored Wildscreen Film Festival that just concluded in Bangalore was in fact aimed at pointing out these concerns of naturalists and wildlife filmmakers from across the globe.

Filmmaker and producer Harry Marshall of Icon Films, UK, that produced the documentary, ‘The Mountains of the Monsoon,’ a film about the Western Ghats, believes it is the responsibility of every natural history filmmaker to point out the damage being caused to the environment due to human intervention.

“It is important that India put a value to its wildlife assets. When our animals start dying — they are trying to tell us something. It is not a case of either or. We need to choose both. We need the wildlife and the wildlife needs us,” points out Harry.

Listed as one of the global biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats comprises less than five percent of the total land area of India but contains an estimated 25 per cent of the country’s non-marine vertebrate animals. It is home to at least 325 globally endangered species. The region has been particularly special to Harry not only because of its unique hotspot status, but also because it is here that he left behind childhood memories of spotting elephants in the wild, of chasing frogs and snakes and of having loved the rolling mountains and the rain.

Harry, whose grandfather was the Bishop of CSI, St Mark’s Cathedral, was born in Bangalore and went to school in Ooty. “I have fond memories of driving through the forests of Bandipur and Madhumalai with my family, and holidays in the forests of the Western Ghats,” he says, adding, “that undoubtedly was the inspiration” behind his career choice.

After winning an Oxford University scholarship to study English literature, Harry worked in London and later joined Channel Four.  In 1990, he moved to Bristol and co-founded Icon Film along with wife Laura Marshall. Icon Films have since produced high rated and award-winning documentaries.

In ‘The Mountains of the Monsoon’, Harry returns to his roots and with wildlife photographer and filmmaker Sandesh Kadur spent a year documenting the changing seasons and distinct places that make up the Western Ghats.

This is the last and most secretive world and it was here  where 10 years ago, Sandesh’s chance sighting of an all grey cat — a cat he had never seen before and could not identify from any book, began an almost obsessive quest to see if a new carnivore could be added to the growing list of new species. The local tribals of the area found nothing surprising in Sandesh’s description. They know his mystery cat as the Pogeyan — literally the ‘Smoke Cat’. The cat which they say ‘comes and goes as the mists’ which engulf the high grasslands in minutes.  
Any environment action, believes Harry, is either altruistic, or motivated by self interest, or pride. “Hence, if an Indian tells the story of his/her land and forests and animals, it will be more effective than what an outsider will do,” he points out, adding that Indian wildlife filmmakers like Sandesh Kadur, Kalyan Varma, Sarvana Kumar and others have it in them to make international standard natural history films.

Harry’s next venture is a film on venomous snakes of India for which he will be collaborating with India’s snake man Romulus Whitaker.

One should not dismiss the Western Ghats as just a showcase of India’s wildlife diversity, but it is because of this biodiversity that we still have water in our rivers, feels Harry.

All of peninsular India’s major rivers rise in the Western Ghats and because it receives between 2,000 and 8,000 mm of rainfall annually, the mountains of the monsoon are the water source for an estimated 300 million people.
So maybe as long as the elusive wild cat roams the ghats, there is hope. And if we do not act now, the real global meltdown in this case cannot be reversed by any severance package from any government.

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