An explorer, writer, poet, storyteller and presenter, filmmaker, photographer, you placed many roles in a short span of time. And everything is in line with nature. What’s your story?
I have always been in love with nature since the time I can remember. Growing up in the foothills of Matheran, meant wildlife was in my backyard itself. My childhood has shaped me into the girl I am today. It started out with writing poems about nature and wildlife. Slowly, the bug of wildlife photography bit me and I received my first camera as a birthday gift. My camera became my favourite companion on all my adventures. I also used to watch a lot of documentaries on Nat Geo & Discovery, featuring Sir David Attenborough and I desired to be like him! I too wanted to travel the world and tell stories of unexplored places and species. So, when the time came to choose my career, I decided to take the plunge and become a wildlife storyteller!
Do you think being a woman is challenging in this field as a photographer or as a filmmaker? And if so, what are the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
Yes! Being a woman is never easy! Society has certain stereotypes for a lady and if you don’t conform to them, life becomes tough. In India, women are not visualized in outdoor jobs. I have had to brave the constant tirade of my friends and cousins about how I am ruining my life if I pursue wildlife filmmaking as a profession. Their comments would be ‘’Oh you will never get married,’’ ‘’This isn’t a job for a girl’’, ‘Why do you want to do something so manly?’’ etc. Initially it used to affect me, then I realized naysayers will always be there. I could prove everyone wrong if I just let my work speak. So, I concentrated on enhancing my skills and becoming better at what I do every single day.
What’s your workflow as a filmmaker?
My workflow is quite simple. Before going for a shoot, I have a shot list ready- a list of every shot I plan to film during the shoot duration. This gives me like a check-list which I can tick-off as the shoot progresses. Once I am back, the back-up process starts for all the footage. Then I move on to logging the footage using Da Vinci Resolve. And then ship it off to my editing team for editing!
What do you enjoy most between photography and filmmaking? And why?
I enjoy doing both equally. Both of them provide an opportunity to tell a story. While one does through still images, the other focuses on videos and sound. I enjoy the process of scripting, presenting, editing and then showcasing the film to the world as much as waiting for hours on the field for the perfect shot!
Have you had any formal photography/ filmmaking training and how did you get to where you are today?
No. I have had no formal training in either photography/filming. Though I opted for Mass Media in my graduation, there was no option to study filmmaking. Instead, I was forced to major in Advertising. So whatever knowledge I have gained in this field as been through the internet and through practice. However recently I have become a part of certain mentorship programs and that has given me access to some amazing mentors who are now helping me become better.
All your activities are in line with nature. Would love to know your views on conservation as an artist?
I feel as an artist, I can harness the power of visual storytelling to create positive conservation impact. Visuals can evoke emotions and inspire action. I believe in the fact that ‘’you protect what you love, you love what you understand and you understand much better what you can see’’. That puts all photographers and filmmakers including me in a very powerful position. And it is important that we use our talent to spread the right message to the public.
You are an Emerging League member of iLCP. Would like to know your experience in iLCP, and how does iLCP influence your work?
It’s been my dream to join iLCP from the time I have come across the organization. It stands for creating impact with your work and joining iLCP as an emerging fellow is a huge honor for me. Currently I am working towards providing national level protection for shallow wetlands in Maharashtra, India, and joining this prestigious organization has provided me guidance from world-class conservation storytellers. It’s an excellent learning opportunity I am able to hone my skills. Further, it has helped amplify my wetland protection advocacy campaign which could result in the protection of not only critical habitats but the preservation of livelihoods of indigenous fisherfolks. While blue-chip documentaries have always been popular, conservation driven films need more attention. One of my main goals is to create conservation programming for global mainstream television and joining iLCP has been a major milestone in this journey.
Your preferred gears and the reason behind your choice?
My choice has always been Canon. My camera bodies are Canon 1Dx Mark II and Canon 5D Mark III. My choice of lens varies with the type of shot I am looking to do. But my favourite lens are Canon EF 600mm f/4, Canon EF 100-400mm IS II, EF 100mm macro and the EF 16-35mm f/2.8.
Being a multiple international award winner, what’s your opinion about the impact of awards in an artist’s life or work?
Awards certainly add credibility to your work. It provides the recognition and it can help amplify your work. It is also a motivator for the artist to work harder and bush their boundaries.
Can you please mention a special moment from your journey?
There are several special moments, in fact every trip into the forest has given me an opportunity to witness an exceptional moment in the wild. But if I have to pick one, it would be when I witnessed an Asiatic Lioness carrying her tiny cub by its feet. Not by the neck. While it was a tender moment to behold, it also conveyed the lioness’s inexperience as she was a first-time mother.
Have you ever faced a difference of opinion about your work? And how do you approach criticism?
Yes! A few times! I am my biggest critic actually! I am never really satisfied with my work. And if someone does criticize, I try to see their point of view. If it is constructive criticism, I accept it and work on it. But if it is someone simply trying to push my morale down, I simply ignore it. There have been social media trolling as well, but I try not to pay attention to such people. It is better to ignore such bullies as when you give them attention, that’s when things can get ugly.
Which professional photographer/ filmmaker/conservationist has influenced your work the most?
So many! Jane Goodall, Beverly Joubert, Sir David Attenborough and Sylvia Earle have been the biggest inspirations for me. Their incredible work inspires me every single day.
What is the scope for a career in wildlife filmmaking and photography? Can one pursue it beyond a hobby?
There is a huge scope of a career in wildlife filmmaking and photography, provided you are really good at your job. That goes true for any career!
There are people who are pursuing it as a profession. But since the industry is niche, it is also very competitive. You have to be really good at what you do, otherwise you won’t get picked up internationally as most of the opportunities are created in the UK, USA.
What are your future and projects related to conservation?
I will continue to work to protect the Panje wetlands and hopefully we get a victory soon with the State government declaring it as a Bird Sanctuary. In addition, there is an impact driven documentary and a blue-chip film I am working on so they will be releasing soon. Many more projects are in development too!
What’s the best advice you´ve ever got? And what will be your advice for nature lovers and upcoming photographers?
The best advice I received was from a mentor-‘’Try to capture as much as you can today, because you never know which species will become extinct tomorrow.’’ This advice has stayed with me in a profound way because we are at the tipping point. And my advice to nature lovers would remain the same. Never let go of a single opportunity to make the world a better place. Remember we have borrowed this planet from our children, and we need to give them one which is sustainable. There is no Planet B, mother Earth is all we have.
Your message for every woman following their dreams.
Do not let gender limit your dreams. Have faith in yourself, be confident and learn from every failure. Every girl’s voice can be heard. You can accomplish anything, overcome any obstacle, as long as you believe in yourself. There is no gate, no lock or bolt that can imprison you, unless you let it. Women are strong, only what needs to change is the way our strengths are perceived.