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The tiger’s storyteller

All tigers have great stories to tell, says filmmaker S Nalla Muthu, who has been concentrating on making films on tigers for the last few years. His latest, ‘The World’s Most Famous Tiger’ is part of IFFI 2018


Machli is a tiger many are familiar with. Although, not everyone may have minutely followed her life, a lot of people have possibly come across her in a newspaper snippet or via television or the web. Indeed, the tiger queen of Ranthambhore National Park played a key role in the regeneration of the tiger population in Ranthambhore and Sariska National Park before passing away at the record age of 27 years.

And filmmaker S Nalla Muthu decided to pay tribute to her and tell her story in the way he does best – through film. ‘The World’s Most Famous Tiger’, an English documentary, which is part of the Indian Panorama – Non Feature category, and is a compilation done over 9 years, tells the story behind Machli’s rise to power, her heartbreaking descent and the legacy that she left behind

For Muthu, tigers are his main love. The wildlife filmmaker who won the Best Exploration/Adventure Film Life Force award for ‘India’s Western Ghats’ in non-feature film category at the 62nd National Film Awards in 2015 has been documenting tales of tigers for the last 12 years and has previously come out with films like Tiger Queen and Tiger’s Revenge. “The reason I choose to focus on tigers is that as everyone is familiar with tigers here in India and Asia. So, tigers sell,” he says. “I also prefer to pick a tiger which is quite famous like Machli, as people can relate easily to the story of a famous character.”

And while filming these documentaries can take a long time, there is no guarantee that you will get a story at all, states Muthu, who instead of just doing conservation based stories prefers to do films with an emotional connect. “When we begin filming, we keep 5-6 storylines in mind. We then spend two years following the character religiously every month. After 25 to 30 per cent of the film is completed, we decide which storyline to drop and which to focus on and so on,” he explains. All through the duration, a lot can change, he says, the mother could die and the father may begin to start taking care of the cubs etc. “In this way the story keeps twisting. And although it is difficult, I make sure that we do not stop till we have a story. And all tigers have great stories to tell,” he says.

A lot of conservationists and environmentalists however do not like his films because he does not talk about conservation, he admits. “But there is no point in going on saying ‘save the tiger’. People are fed up of hearing this. No one wants to see how they mate, how they talk or how they walk. People want to go beyond that. I believe the best way to do this is to humanise the animals and tell a story with an emotional connect,” he says, adding that he is happy to do a conservation film provided someone is willing to pay the money to make it and then buy it. “If there is no buyer, they why will I do it?” he asks.

While in India, there is almost no slot for such environment films on television, with just a half an hour slot at a very late hour, on international channels, no one wants to buy films which are full of conflict, says Muthu. “They don’t want to see blood, killing and politics. They want a feel-good film. So the best bet is to make a film with an emotional connect,” he says.

Another point he stresses on, is that there is a need for such films to be translated into regional languages so that they can reach villagers. “You can’t save tigers in English. Many educated people know about the need to protect these species, but the villagers, who are not familiar with English, also need to know,” he says.

Muthu further adds that there is a need to now explore the digital medium more. “For this though, the films cannot be long and it is important that they can entertain. Doing a web series on wildlife is not that easy too,” he says.

Muthu is now all set to work on a feature length Hindi project in Tadoba region of Maharashtra, a conflict zone for tigers at the moment. For this, he is looking at getting a Bollywood actor to be a part of the film. “Every year we have different celebrities claiming to be ambassadors for the tigers but they hardly ever perform any role, nor do any film based on them. I am hoping that an actor will come onboard if they are really serious about tigers,” he says.

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