MUMBAI: You may have not heard of this chartered accountant and lawyer who transformed himself into a wildlife filmmaker. But, TV channels in Europe are beginning to take note of Sumesh Lekhi of Brave Age Film Productions and his 84-minute documentary -- Bastion of the Giants which had a budget of around $100,000. This apart, it has also bagged many an award: Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, New York, Best Film Documentary Short International Movie Award and Indonesia, among other.
His professional degrees don’t really qualify him to do what he is doing. But, his passion for saving the environment led him to taking up the camera and filming in danger prone areas like the jungles, amongst elephants, tigers and scorpions.
Lekhi, who is a part of Friends of the Environment which helped save the mangroves in Mumbai’s Andheri Lokhandwala Complex Area and also resuscitate the lake there, decided to document on camera some of his activities as he went about on his conservation drive around four years ago. The idea to make a documentary on elephants sprang from this urge. Says he: “My childhood passion for nature and wildlife kept beckoning me away from urban life, taking me deep into the Indian and African forests to be with what I loved the most.”
Lekhi became the director of photography (DOP) himself and spent six years capturing scenes of the tuskers in their natural habitat in the Kaziranga National Park in the east of India (Assam). Says he: “We went in the dense forests of West Bengal and tall grasses of Assam to study the elephant behaviour, uncontrolled environment of the jungles, filming villages around wildlife parks, writing the script, film editing, sounds and music design. In our film, we gave the insights gained over time spent with forest departments and villagers that live alongside these large animals.”
Lekhi says that filming in a dense forest of Kaziranga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The crew used to begin their day at 4.00 am, wait for the elephants to come out, so that they could shoot them for their film. Before setting out to film his pet project, Lekhi had reached out to some top-notch DoPs from Bollywood but they advised him to do it himself as wildlife filming is more run and gun style, especially in the dense forests; hence he decided to don that hat himself. “Filming animals requires rapid reflexes in terms of zooming in on animals; how much distance to keep from them so you don’t upset them,” he says. Hence, I became the DOP myself.”
Seeing his passion for the subject, Canon and Panasonic lent him the cameras to experiment with and he opted for HD, though he believes he would now like to move on to 4K HDR. Lekhi said that his film was made out of passion, and it was an experiment which has garnered great success.
His team included his wife Rashmi -- a fashion designer, to coordinate and record the sounds and then help in production and outreach of the message.
Talking about his experience in the forest, he says: “While we were shooting, the forest department used to come saying ‘jaldi aao’ (hurry up, come this side) because they knew we were from Bombay shooting for the documentary, so we used to go and capture all the animals coming to the field, and the guards driving them back.”
Lekhi also shares his experiences with an example of his hand. He explains: “The jungle was like our hands, and the spaces between our fingers were the villages. The elephants moved from point A to point B to C, which were the spaces going through the villages.”
He also adds that the guards knew the elephants, and the elephants knew the guards, with the former yelling at them “badmash vaapas jaa” (go back, you naughty ones) so the elephants would return but they would come out after 1km.
Lekhi is currently following another pet subject of his: the Great Bengal Tiger, if anyone can call it a pet of any sort. “I have already invested around $150,000 in Bengal Tigers,” he reveals. “And then there’s Prowling Undergrowth. Both of these are being made for the US and international markets and I am looking for co-producers.”
That should be a cinch for him as the interesting narrative and visuals of Bastion of the Giants caught the attention of Austrian natural history distributor ORF-Enterprise – a subsidiary of the ORF, Austria largest public sector broadcaster.
ORF Enterprise has since the past year struck licensing and syndication deals with Amazon Prime, CCTV- China, EBS- Korea and Love Nature channel-Canada. Despite all the accolades and international acclaim, Bastion of the Giants has yet to find a domestic broadcast partner as
Lekhi has been busy with his new documentaries and has yet to reach out to factual channels.
He is clear that his passion for conservation and filming natural history is something that is going to keep him pre-occupied for a long time.
“The business will come I know. Good work attracts it,” he says.
Inshallah, as they say.