Screen debut for Sweety

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By ANURADHA SHARMA LAKHOTIA in Siliguri
  • Published 7.12.04
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Siliguri, Dec. 7: For all her ?lethargy?, Sweety proved to be quite a handful even for veteran wildlife filmmakers Rajesh and Naresh Bedi.

Fighting off fatigue and frustration, the filmmakers followed the red panda, the first captive bred to be released in the wild, for months on end through snow and bad weather trying to document the secret lives of these cuddly, little-known, endangered animals in Singalila National Park.

Filming Sweety might have been a lot of trouble, but not a disappointment.

?We tracked Sweety for over a month to film the mating scene, a rarely witnessed sight. It was hard work, staying in the jungle with our cameras ready to roll for endless days and night. Then, one day everything came together and our camera caught the moment to perfection,? Naresh, director and executive producer, said over phone from Delhi.

The moment closest to the Bedi brothers? hearts, however, came two months later when, one a chilly winter morning, their cameras caught a little bundle of fur peering out from behind Sweety.

?We could not film her giving birth, but the sight of the tiny two-day-old baby made up for the disappointment. The birth of this cub also signifies the success of the Red Panda Project and that is the theme of this film,? Naresh said.

The hour-long documentary which is slated to premiere on the small screen in May-June next year, has not yet been christened, though the contest has boiled down to Cherub of the Mist or Angel of the Mist.

The film?s backdrop is set against Project Red Panda, a Central Zoo Authority-funded scheme, aimed at conservation of this endangered species.

Sweety and her partner Mili, both reared in captivity (and injected with fresh genetic material) at Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling, were released in the wild with radio collars fixed on their tails in November last year. A leopard killed Mili within a few months and Sweety, whose radio collars were removed in November this year, is reportedly doing well in her natural habitat.

?This is the first such conservation effort for the red panda in the world and we are the first to film the success story? an elated Naresh said.

His twin sons, Ajay and Vijay, the winners of this year?s Green Oscar in the BBC Newcomer Award category for their documentary, Policing Langur, have completed most of the shooting.

They ?might? make a few more trips before the documentary is released.

The Bedis, known for Saving the Tiger/Man-Eating Tiger (nominated for the British Academy Awards in 1987), Cobra-The Snake God, Ganesh-The Elephant God Whistling Hunters (on wild dogs) and Ladakh: The Forbidden Wilderness, feel confident that viewers will love Sweety and be prompted to respect the wilds more.

?This is turning out to be one of the most beautiful films we have made. We have been able to get some exclusive shots of Sweety, including the mating and when she went into labour. Coupled with the natural beauty of the place, the film will be a treat to watch,? Naresh promised.

All the Bedis? films have been screened by major TV networks around the world, including National Geographic, BBC, Discovery Channel, Channel 4, WNET/Thirteen, PBS Channel and Canal Plus.

The movie will be screened internationally, but have an Indian perspective.

?We have shot the film with an Indian point of view, unlike foreign filmmakers, who deal with Indian subjects from their point of view and guided by their own interests,? Naresh said.

Raju Das, the divisional forest officer (wildlife division I), hoped that the film will be able to promote more such experiments in animal conservation. ?The film will encourage more projects to be sanctioned,? he said.

The forest department had provided financial assistance to make the film.