Amit Topno shares his experiences on making his first film Hungry Elephants Raid Rural Jharkhand
Elephants are a real menace where I stay. Everyone is very worried about the situation as our lives are affected on a daily basis. Agriculture is our mainstay in Nichitpur but all farming activities are threatened by rampaging tuskers. And then, they also break into our houses sometimes. They broke into mine, and my family had a very narrow escape. Our grain was lost and our building destroyed. So I decided to make a video on the issue.
It was also my first video, so the whole experience stands out in my memory. Nobody understood what I was doing at the start. “Why are you asking us all these questions?”, they would say, “You know what happened, you were there yourself. And why do you have a camera with you?”. They understood eventually of course. The officers I interviewed also cooperated well. I was actually a bit nervous approaching them because I didn’t even have an ID card back then, but they never asked for one.
Trying to film the elephants was quite scary. I remember I had set up my tripod about 100 metres away, and one elephant kept watching us. I felt uneasy, we all did. There was this little boy standing much closer to the herd though, and he showed no signs of fear. But the rest of us were very jumpy. It was also the first time I was seeing an elephant in the wild, I hadn’t been there when they broke into my house. Then, the elephant that had been watching us took a step in our direction. It looked like it was about to charge. All of us, apart from the little boy, just dropped everything and ran. I learnt my lesson that day – in situations of real danger, give the camera to someone else! I wish I had been able to get some close-up footage of the elephants though. I would have liked to have included it in my video.
But I’d say that even harder than filming the elephants was recording the pieces to camera. It is one thing to stand behind the camera and another one altogether to be in front of it. It was very difficult for me. I tried at first to get other people to film me, but I felt very awkward speaking while they watched. And then they would start laughing sometimes, and they would shake the camera too. I finally decided to just buy a stand. Even today I feel uncomfortable facing the camera though. I also never script anything in my stories, so the pieces to camera take ten or even twenty tries before I’m satisfied.
I learnt a lot making that first video. I came to it fresh from my VV training camp. During training, I had thought that it would all be very easy. I had thought that I would be able to complete a story from start to finish within two days. It was when I was actually out there shooting that I realised all the hard work and research that go into covering an issue. But it is all worth it. There is so much satisfaction in being able to bring about change.
When I set out on my elephant story, my goal was to get compensation for the families whose houses had been destroyed. It had been a year since the incident and no money had come through. But within a month of filming, they were all fully recompensed. My video was not even finished by then. So I reworked my Call to Action to ask for other things we needed – torches, fireworks, etc. I received a phone call in April. I was requested to open a bank account, they are giving us Rs. 10,000.