Concert For India’s Environment: filming for the movie 2004-7

I never expected to see myself as a film director; I never really planned to make a film. But then in the three and a half years after the Concert For India’s Environment at BVIEER in January 2004, a kind of organic growth took over and this simple musician found himself a film cameraman, interviewer, score composer, editor and graphics and web designer too!

Resting up in Goa after the gig, Naveena and I met up with Zeenat (Julienne Stretton) a well-known New Zealand TV documentary producer, who we had met previously at our home in New Zealand. She looked through our concert footage and sensed the possibility of a direction. Without her input at that stage, this film would probably be no more than an hour of concert footage mouldering on the shelves of each of the band members!

Redi Fort, Maharashtra

Filming in Redi Fort with Naveena

At her prompting, Svargo (one of the cameramen at the concert) and I headed off into nature to film. We began at Redi Fort, a moody ruin inhabited by monkeys, just over the Maharashtra border from north Goa. Back in Pune, while Zeenat interviewed Erach Bharucha about the situation of the environment in India, Svargo, Avesh (our other concert cameraman) and I took ourselves off into the Western Ghats. These dramatic hills are still patchily covered with dense forest (including devrais – sacred groves – protected and undisturbed treasurehouses of otherwise extinct vegetation) and provide the setting for some of BVIEER’s school outreach programmes.

Erach Bharucha in sacred grove, Maharashtra

The schoolchildren reading their poems about nature had been a vital part of the concert and Zeenat insisted that interviews with them would broaden the film’s message. We also added an interview with BVIEERs deputy director, Dr Shamita Patel, to make sure we had the woman’s perspective. I then realized that we’d better explain who we – the band – were and why we were doing all this, so I interviewed those of us still in Pune at the time.

Amrita Mulla schoolchild poet

Ravindra Verma schoolchild peot

In between all this, Svargo had been sitting me down and showing me Final Cut Pro. It’s a steep learning curve to begin editing film on such software, and without him I’d have been hopelessly lost. He, Zeenat and I produced the first part (‘A Sense of Wonder’) together and from then on I was mostly on my own.

In the following three years, I discovered a new love. Filming the nature and peoples of India. Every spare moment – and buck! – I had saw me back in India, out in the wilderness, patiently waiting to capture on video the elusive beings who live there. It took me to extraordinary corners of the vast Indian subcontinent, and introduced me to some the most hearty and charming people I know. I’ll never forget the three days I spent alone in the dry, windy waste of Rehakuri Blackbuck Sanctuary in Maharashtra, waiting for those splendid creatures to come within range of my cheap zoom lens. Or the steep forest looking out on distant Nanda Devi in the Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal, where with my feet slipping out from underneath me, I struggled to set up the tripod and film the local women high in the treetops, cutting fodder for their cows. I was lucky too to get some stunning dawn shots of birds on the Mula-Mutha river in Pune, a feat that would today, just ten years later, be impossible because of the vastly increased levels of pollution and the almost total disappearance of the river’s once abundant birdlife. A highlight was being among the tribal people of Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala, whose children quickly found me funny enough to overcome their shyness and give me some of the biggest beaming smiles I’ve ever encountered.

Blackbucks sparring, Rehakuri, Maharashastra

Woman cutting fodder, Kumaon hills, Uttarakhand

Mulla-Muthu river, Pune

Tribal girl, Perambikulam, Kerala

Every spare moment I say – but of course this film would not look as it does if that was true. On top of researching all the facts and information with which the film is loaded, downloading, logging and then editing all that footage had me up at all hours. And here I must again thank Svargo, who came over to our base in New Zealand from Australia on several occasions to help me through difficult patches with his Final Cut Pro expertise and sensitivity to editing; and Naveena, who continued her role as Artistic Director of the concert into the film and whose eye for beauty and detail is uncanny!

Another vital step in the overall shape of this film was the release on New Earth Records in 2005 of the live CD from the concert, ‘Fragrance of the East’. This was the opportunity I needed to remix the audio up to CD quality, and gave the film its first public exposure, in the form of three short Quicktime clips that I squeezed onto the CD. By late 2006 it dawned on me that I was only one more film shoot in India away from finishing, and immediately a sense of urgency took over. It was as if the film had a life of its own and was struggling to emerge from its long gestation and see the light of day! So I put ‘A Sense of Wonder’ up on YouTube and left. How exciting, three months later, to come back and find that thousands of people had watched it, and many had commented on it and rated it five stars!

Overdubbing for the CD

That trip to India didn’t quite do it: as filmmakers know, you can never have too much footage! Discerning viewers will notice half a dozen shots with a very un-Indian light interspersed throughout the film. I found these in New Zealand. In April 2007, with the editing finished, I gave the film a dedicated website where anyone who wanted to could download it for free (this was before it became easy to download direct from YouTube). And started offering it to film festivals. I made only one condition: it should not be used for commercial purposes it had to be free. It was played at various festivals in India, Italy and Russia, and then the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona on 8th October 2008.

A word about equipment: I used a second-hand Sony DCR-TRV20 for all my shooting. With a single chip, it was even in those days barely prosumer quality and compared to today’s technology, a real dinosaur. I mention it because I often hear from filmmakers and composers the mantra that industry wants us all repeating as consumers: ‘I can’t manage without the latest equipment’. I hope my film is proof that we can find ways to get things done without spending lots of money! A word too about how ‘the latest’ can trip us up: I lost all the original footage in a hard disk crash (which explains the low resolution of these stills taken from the film). I had bought into Apple’s decision that Firewire was the wonderful future and then watched both my external Firewire drives crap out on me in the damp of monsoon Goa. Thus I now have only the low-res edits I uploaded to YouTube. (And we’ve not seen any more of Firewire the past few years, have we?)

THANK YOU again to all of you who gave yourselves to this project for no financial reward, just the sheer joy of being part of it. I have tried my best to honour you in the credits at the end of the film. If I missed you by name, forgive me; it is only because there have been so many of you!

And lastly, a word about sharing: I learned from my master Osho, that the spiritual law of sharing is very different from the economic one. In economics the more you give away the less you have. But with love and energy, the more you share, the more you get!

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