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A Fearful Symmetry

Dipanita Nath, The Indian Express
New Delhi
6 Jul 2017

A still from the film
A still from the film

What happens when tigers are forced into human territory? Krishnendu Bose investigates in his National Award-

Having followed and filmed wild tigers all my life, I set out on an adventurous journey across India to track the tigers outside (forest reserves) and piece together a story that, for the first time, takes a close look at their secret lives,” says Krishnendu Bose about the idea that resulted in his National Award-winning film, The Tiger Who Crossed the Line.

Famous sanctuaries are home to India’s remaining tigers, but one in three of the big cats lives outside the borders, on land where humans have stayed for generations. It is a forced and uneasy marriage. The Tiger Who Crossed the Line explores how both sides make it work — and when it doesn’t. If an early shot in the film is of a tiger sitting in a swamp with fire and fear in its eyes, the following minutes spell out the human cost. In Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, where Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is located, 150 people are dead, crops have been damaged and cattle have been killed.

“Man-animal conflict is going to be the number one problem in conservation. It is already a problem in rural areas and is affecting cities too. I have a house in Uttarakhand’s fruit belt, where plum and apricot grow, and people are selling off their land because of the destruction caused by monkeys. The whole economy has gone down. In West Bengal, the damage caused by elephants became an election issue as Mamata Banerjee handed out compensation for lives and crops lost,” says Bose, 55.

At the film’s screenings, people almost always share their own experiences of conflict with animals, from wild boars in Himachal Pradesh to leopards in India’s silicon city of Bangalore. “I made a film on the tiger because people like to see and read about tigers, but the intention was to create awareness about a wider crisis,” says Bose.

From Ramnagar on the borders of Jim Corbett National Park, to Pilibhit Tiger Reserve and the Sundarbans — Bose was on the road for six months before he stretched his travel further to the long tiger corridor of central India. “Tigers are ferociously territorial. The moment the capacity of a reserve reaches its ceiling, new tigers are pushed out. Tigers who cross the line, find themselves in a critical situation outside,” says Bose.

The Tiger Who Crossed the Line is the last of the trilogy that started with Tiger – The Death Chronicles, about the reasons the animal is in danger in India. The Forgotten Tigers, which turned the camera on how tigers grapple with life outside protected reserves, can be called the prequel to the new film. Bose’s obsession with tiger conservation began after he visited reserves with his wife, also a filmmaker. He watched a documentary on elephants and “wanted to do the same stuff”.
Filmmaker Krishnendu Bose

In the film, Bose takes his audience on the trip. Beautiful landscapes are captured in shots that tease the eye with the presence of danger. In overhead images, the Sundarbans is a verdant carpet patterned by a winding river. When he follows a kill, Bose tells the camera: “To dive into the undergrowth with a tiger lurking nearby is sure adrenaline-thumping.”

Some of the most outstanding scenes are of the cats at night, their eyes burning on screen. “It was very difficult, I have to confess. The tigers venture into villages at night, so we had infra-red cameras and a network of villagers to track and film them,” says Bose. The Tiger Who Crossed the Line could be a travelogue, did it not concern itself with a life-and-death situation.