Kalyan Varma on ‘Wild Karnataka’ & Working With David Attenborough

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough in his trademark style, ‘Wild Karnataka’ is a celebration of natural bou nty

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(This interview was first published on 28 August 2019. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the release of ‘Wild Karnataka’ across eight cities.)

“I think the biggest thing for the Wild Karnataka team was to get Sir David Attenborough to narrate the film. As we all know, his is the voice that started the generation of wildlife filmmakers. But we had to use a lot of influence, lot of emotional blackmail, I actually had to say things like ‘it’s 1.3 billion people waiting for you’ and that he really hasn’t done much work in India.”
Kalyan Varma

Four naturalists, along with about 20 other camerapersons and wildlife enthusiasts, worked in collaboration to bring the project to life. Shot over the course of four years, capturing over 400 hours of footage, the film is a celebration of nature and a labour of love.

We caught up with one of the filmmakers and wildlife photographers Kalyan Varma to get a behind-the-scenes understanding of what goes into making a visual spectacle.

Why Karnataka?

The entire crew behind Wild Karnataka comprises photographers and naturalists based out of Bangalore and working in Karnataka. The expertise of each crew member was used optimally to capture different animals at different times.

Working in collaboration with the state forest department gave the filmmakers unfettered access to forests and sanctuaries, enabling them to do their best work.

“So, Karnataka is one of the underrepresented states in the country when it comes to wildlife. People associate Karnataka with elephants, a bit of Western Ghats and things like that. But we have deserts, we have underwater coral reefs, we have rainforests. So, other than the big mammals tigers, leopards and elephants, we also have dry area species like jungle cats, unique species, so that is what we wanted to highlight in this film and celebrate in this film,” Varma said.

The complete film will also be made available by the forest department to schoolchildren by distributing them in CD format for educational purposes. It will also be shown at nature camps in rural areas.

Of Close Shaves and Intimate Shots

Varma recalls having a lot of ups and down and crazy moments while shooting on location.

“For example there is this interesting sequence in the film where a pack of otters chase away a tiger. And when we were filming that, we didn’t see the tiger. The tiger was sleeping in the water and we didn’t realise, we were just following the otters. And suddenly, oh no! there’s a tiger there. So we had a lot of these funny moments. Sometimes dangerous moments,” he said.

He said that one of the best things about shooting over a long period of time, is the intimacy that one develops with the animals, that helps people behind the lens, get those coveted, extra special shots.

“I think the most amazing thing for me, and this is what all filmmakers crave, is where you spend enough time with an animal, long enough that the animal starts trusting you. For me, that was the biggest thing from elephants to jungle cats, you know a mother that has kittens, they were extremely shy. Just because we were able to spend considerable time, animals don’t treat you as a threat, then you get intimate shots of the animals. So that was really amazing so we had the luxury of 3-4 years where we could spend time with the animals,” he said.

From capturing the black panther to recording the lekking behaviour of peacocks, there were many firsts for this team in making Wild Karnataka. A Kannada language version will be out soon, which will be made available to people in rural areas for them to understand the wildlife in Karnataka. However, the film is also due to be released on a digital platform soon, where it will have a wider reach, outside the country and for urban audiences.

“We focussed more on lesser-known animals and habitat. I think it’ll be a revelation for all the people who see and realise that there is a lot of other wildlife other than the big 3-4 animals in Karnataka. I think the biggest takeaway for people to take pride in – not just people in Karnataka but for people in India – is to realise that this is India and we have so much wildlife, and we can celebrate this wildlife,” he said.

Another project Varma worked on, BBC’s Big Cats has been nominated for an Emmy award this year.

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