Sunday, 30 March 2008



Evidently carried away by the issue, Mike Pandey questions the role of the State governments in protecting the wildlife. “Unless there is political will nothing can happen,” says the acclaimed environmental filmmaker. Recipient of numerous awards, Pandey has been conferred the first ‘Vasundhara Mitra Award’ by the organisers of Vasundhara International Film Festival. I spoke with him before the event.

There are “people with good intentions” who care about the plight of Indian wild animals. These intentions must be implemented, says Pandey. “But what are the governments doing? What have they done to protect the horseshoe crabs?” the conservationist in him asks. Laws, according to him, are “not effective” and organisations like the Wildlife Institute and policy-makers need to have dedicated people to “properly direct” the implementation processes. “It’s a shame that we cannot protect our national animal tiger even after independence. We use animals when it suits us and ignore them in other times. We have not adapted to the planet but changed it to suit our needs.”

As we delve into the issue of man-animal conflict, Pandey says that people in the urban areas rarely come in contact with the wild animals. “But the rural people do.” So the conservation movements “must involve” the large section of Indians in the rural areas. “Sixty seven per cent of Indians live in villages. If they are not aware about the need to conserve the wildlife and maintain the ecological equilibrium, then nothing will happen. They are key to conservation; the rural milieu must realise that their own existence depend on the balance and this understanding can come from education and information,” he says at one go.

As an example of how loss of ecological balance can cause harm, Pandey mentions the killing of leopards in Himachal Pradesh. “With no leopards predating on monkeys, crops were lost since the monkeys were destroying them.” He also refers to the massive reduction of vulture population in India. Vultures are the only animals that can consume poisonous food and neutralise it, informs Pandey. “In 10 years, more than 99 per cent of them have been killed due to use of the chemical diclofenac; the Prime Minister’s orders against such usage were disobeyed for about one and half year. By that time the damage was done.”

To resolve the conflict and to carry forward the conservation movement, funds are essential and Pandey thinks “the corporate sector has a social responsibility” in this regard. They should provide the money, for example, to make films and other projects that will be taken to the rural masses. Pandey, who is currently making an underwater film, informs about his wish to make a film on tiger, but there is not enough financial support that is needed. “How many more awards will prove my credibility?” his dismay comes out in open. However, all is not negative. Pandey mentions the project of elephant care at Sawantwadi in Kolhapur. “It’s good to have people like actors John Abraham and organisations like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) collaborating.”

Talking about conflict, Pandey refers to the contradictions between development and protecting the ecosystem. I mention the fact that large chunk of tiger habitat in India is on land rich with minerals. Pandey pauses for a while and then cites the tigers at Sariska Reserve, who have been reportedly wiped off by the greedy miners. “We have to treat nature with reverence or else there will be earthquakes, tsunamis and similar other catastrophes,” he says, adding, “Respecting wildlife in part of Indian culture. Our forefathers knew the importance of animals. Look at the vahanas of the idols that we worship.”

Pandey accepts that there is need for scientific strategies. “But the problem is who is listening to the scientists?” he rues. According to Pandey, India is treading a dangerous path. “We blame western nations like the USA for maximum carbon dioxide emission, but we are forgetting that if we try to become superpower, then we may end up emitting more CO2 than the USA which is the major offender in this regard now,” he puts it bluntly. “We know what Hurricane Katrina did to the mighty USA. Their bombs and other arsenals could not help them and cannot help them from the nature’s fury,” Pandey minces no word.

I ask him about the role of media vis-à-vis conservation. Pandey affirms that the media has a “responsible role.” But he says that there have been instances when the television channels have portrayed the wild animals in “poor light,” particularly when some of the animals had strayed into urban areas. “They go by the Television Rating Points, unfortunately,” he observes. Doordarshan, however, figures as an exception with their environmental series. “As a public broadcaster Doordarshan has a mandate to spread the environmental message and they are doing it quite well.”

As a filmmaker Pandey has been working for over three decades with over 600 films to his credit. I ask him what keeps him driving. “It’s sheer enjoyment. I am programmed to carry the information and messages about conservation and wildlife,” he replies. “Not everyone can go to those places, so these films help them to see the beauties of the planet.” And for him, the “awards are motivating” since they are recognitions of the fact that some people are listening to the messages.

To make that communication more effective, Pandey thinks the storytelling format will be “more attractive” compared to the documentaries. That was his advice to filmmaker Gurmeet Sapal for the film Leopards In The Lurch. Pandey had advised Sapal to think of the film as a story opening with a leopard mother who is targeting dogs so that the leopard cubs have some food. Besides, “a good wildlife, environment filmmaker must have vast repository of information, love for nature, patience like a vulture, strength of an elephant, stamina like a bull, resilience like a tiger and sustainability like a tortoise.”