I was fifteen years old or so when my father brought a set of VHS cassettes home to watch. For the present day audience a VHS – short for Video Home System, was a tape format akin to what optical DVD’s are now and the dominant form of home entertainment at a time when television programs were scarce and broadcast networks like Discovery, National Geographic, etc. non-existent in India. The cover of the VHS set had the image of a Killer Whale breaching near the shore with a dozen nervous seals in the foreground – a striking image. This was the ‘Trials of Life’ – a twelve-part BBC Natural History series about animal behaviour written and presented by ‘David Attenborough’. I remember watching the series over and over again glued to the fascinating world of animals and to the simple yet riveting presentation of natural history by a tall white man with large teeth and a lovely British accent.
Fast-forward to 1999 – Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. I was just beginning to take my first steps into documentary filmmaking. I attended the Festival and to my surprise present in the gathering was Sir David Attenborough. He had just completed another of the ‘Life’ series titled, ‘The Life of Birds’. At that time I earned part of my living leading bird tours in the neo-tropics and the Life of Birds was a bible. I remember meeting Sir David in the central lobby of the Grand Teton Lodge. It was an evening of wine and cheese and at the first opportunity we met, spoke and he jovially signed my shirt. The next day we met again and this time I got my book The Life of Birds autographed.
In all this my far-fetched dream was always to have something that I shot narrated by his voice. That dream came very close (2007) when the purple frog – Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis was to be included in the BBC Series Life in Cold Blood. But due to many broadcast and production reasons it did not happen and the sequence was retained for Mountains of the Monsoon. Although the purple frog sequence would’ve been a very small part of a big series, to me, that itself would’ve been a dream fulfilled. Sir David was 81 years old and I figured that after this big series he would hang up his hat and retire and I lost all hope of having anything associated with the voice of a legend.
This image was shot by late Barry Paine – another great voice and mentor whose warm conversations and company I’ll miss at Festivals he so devoutedly attended.
In 2008 I met Sir David at Wildscreen. I was helping Tom Veltre, head of The Really Interesting Picture Company (holds the record for the production company with the longest name I think) with his film about George Schaller titled, ‘Nature’s Greatest Defender’. In it was a key interview with Attenborough and this was the first time wherein I interacted with him at a personal level. I presented him with a copy of my book – Sahyadris: India’s Western Ghats. As he flipped through the book, he paused on the page of the Fairy Bluebird and exclaimed, “ Ahh, Irena puella, one of my favourite birds…” and then continued looking through the book. His knowledge even of a place that he had hardly, if ever, traveled to was nothing short of remarkable!
2011 – The Whitley Awards were announced and Ramana Athreya – an astrophysicist was to receive an award for his work in Arunachal Pradesh. The organizers contacted me for footage from this remote region and when the short video was completed I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was used along-with Attenborough’s narration. There was a great sense of joy and satisfaction watching Arunachal Pradesh being introduced in a manner only he can and that is best described by actually watching the video.
Last year between January and June I worked along with Chinmay Rane on two film projects for National Geographic. One about Clouded Leopards for Cicada/NG and another titled, ‘Secrets of Wild India’ for Icon Films and National Geographic. This was to be a coffee-table book type documentary series about India’s natural history. My focus was on the first of the 3-part series covering the northeast Indian landscape along the foothills of the Himalaya and the Brahmaputra River. Kaziranga – a place I now call home was base camp and the wild inhabitants of the floodplain – rhinoceros, buffalo and elephant took center-stage in the film. While filming certain key sequences we often read out lines from the script, usually in a very Attenboroughesque manner, “In a remote clearing, a 30-year-old female Indian Elephant, heavy with milk, guards her newborn calf.Only hours old, she was born under the cover of darkness in the shelter of the forest. The other females of the herd gather to witness her first tentative steps…” Months later when I heard that, Sir David Attenborough, the voice behind the epics we so love, was to do the narration for ‘Secrets of Wild India’ I was silently overjoyed. Finally a dream realized…
Home to over a billion people, India is best known as a diverse mass of noise, crowds, colour and religious devotion. And she also has a wild side, populated by giants, predators and exotic creatures.
Narrated by the legendary Sir David Attenborough Wild India airs Mondays at 8pm to give you a fascinating insight into this world-within-a-world, as each show explores the country’s extraordinary landscapes and their inhabitants.
As for now the tentative Air dates and schedule is detailed below. Please check in to your local NG Wild TV schedule for more accurate timings.
It airs today in the UK and in Latin America – 6th Feb 8PM. I do hope you enjoy watching the show as much as we’ve enjoyed capturing it. Look forward to hearing your comments and please share this with your friends and family.