The snow leopard, small but menacing in his stealth, is a beautiful beast that streaks into full view so often in this film that you wonder where the camera was hidden
WHEN YOU see the Bedi brothers' films on Ladakh -- Mountain Desert and The Forbidden Wilderness -- you want to salute the spirit that moved them to spend three years on such a project. There are not many who would stow themselves away in an icy desert in sub-zero temperatures to record the swish of a snow leopard's tail. Little wonder then that this scene in The Forbidden Wilderness, screened recently at the India International Centre in Delhi, is a first -- and the high point of a memorable film.
Though wild creatures such as the snow leopard -- apparently never captured on film before -- and the bar-headed geese are central to the theme, the Bedis' Ladakh films are not primarily about wildlife. They are about a harsh ecosystem that follows its own relentless cycle of snow, ice, thaw and yet more snow and ice. Nevertheless, human beings, mammals and birds live in this region and follow their own patterns of survival.
Wildlife films have their own constituency, but it is a much bigger one in the more affluent West. In India, the enthusiasts are growing, but not the patrons. Finding money to sponsor a project that involves hanging around for months to capture the breeding habits of some elusive species is not easy and the Bedis have regularly found their sponsors abroad. The Ladakh films were made in association with Channel 4 Television and WNET 13, New York.
Unfortunately, they are also likely to be seen much more in those countries than at home. For the Bedis, this is a long-standing regret. Says Rajesh Bedi, "We want our films to be seen in our own country." Doordarshan has lately taken to patronising wildlife, but to make it on the air on Sunday morning at prime time, it helps to have a label such as that of the National Geographic Society. "Without it," Bedi observes, "the time slot you get is likely to be closer to 11 pm."
To return to the films, they are slow-moving but quietly splendid. The Forbidden Wilderness is for lovers of birds and beasts who find fascination in the breeding cycle of a migratory bird. The bar-headed geese are salutary performers, lacing their home-making antics with comic charm. They flap, stamp, squabble and gobble even their own eggs once they have been carelessly broken. A sequence in the film, in which great crested grebes and the geese compete energetically for the same nesting materials, is a minor classic. In another unforgettable scene, a nest with eggs intact is borne away by the waters of Lake Tso Morari, at a height of about 4,600 m above sea level.
The snow leopard, small but menacing in his stealth, is a beautiful beast that streaks into full view so often in this film that you wonder where the camera was hidden. The snow leopard scans the landscape watchfully, and springs on its prey if there is no shepherd in sight. And, this is the elusive creature in whose pursuit scientific expeditions have spent months -- and returned disappointed. The Forbidden Wilderness also features the red-hatted lamas and the ordinary villagers who co-exist with the wild animals and birds, never harming them, even though the geese do considerable damage to their crops.
The Mountain Desert, is more about people, focussing on the Changpa nomads who battle packs of Tibetan wolves that attack their herds of yaks, goats and sheep. But this film, too, has unprecedented footage of an endangered species, the Himalayan wild dog.
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