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Sirocco: The only bird in the world with a government job

Wildlife filmmaker Ashwika Kapur’s From Dud to Stud documents Sirocco the kakapo bird who, as a mascot for conservation in New Zealand, lives the life of a rockstar off the shores of the country in his protected Pacific island.

Payel Majumdar  30th Aug 2014

Sirocco is a very busy kakapo (a species of large, flightless, nocturnal parrot).

former child actor on Aparna Sen's sets, 26-year-old Ashwika Kapuris no stranger to films; she's been around them for as long as she can remember. Years later, when she decided to bring together her love for both film and animals, she didn't think she'd also be prepping for an acceptance speech at "The Green Oscars". Her 15-minute film How A Dud Became A Stud, has landed her a nomination for the prestigious Panda Awards at the Wildscreen Environment Film Festival, being held in Bristol this October.

Indian wildlife filmmaker Mike Pandey was the first Asian producer/director to win a Panda Award, for his film The Last Migration - Wild Elephant Capture in Surguja, and later again for Shores of Silence: Whale Sharks in India and Vanishing Giants, which made way for a much-awaited ban of cruel and outdated techniques of elephant capture in India.

Q. Congratulations on the Green Oscars (Panda Awards) nomination. What made you want to capture Sirocco's story?

A. Thank you. I was doing my post graduation in Science and Natural History Filmmaking from New Zealand, and I had to make a wildlife documentary for my final project. After tons of research, I found that only 125 kakapo parrots exist in the world — so few, in fact, that they have all been named. I zeroed down on Sirocco because of his unique story — Sirocco is a rare bird even amongst the rare community of kakapos — he is so popular that the government of New Zealand has given him a job! He is the mascot for conservation in New Zealand, and travels as a representative during important meetings on conservation — ministers come and meet him, tourists want to hang out with him, children and grown-ups both clamour for his attention. I decided to pursue this story, and make my film around him, instead of filming a generic documentary on kakapo birds.

Q. Tell me about the production cycle for this film. Did you have a large crew?

A. No, this film is a one-girl production through all the stages — research, shooting and post-production. As a student film project, my budget was a shoestring one at best, and it is very difficult to get permission to shoot in the sanctuary that is Sirocco's home. The film was completed in all of two and a half months. I got to shoot with the bird in the sanctuary for six-seven days, and the rest of the time I was busy with edits. 

Sirocco is an adorable nocturnal creature who looks like a cross between a parrot and a stuffed teddy bear.

Q. Was it tough?

A. This guy lives on a protected island off the shore of New Zealand. An inherent problem with shooting Sirocco is that he is a nocturnal creature. I did not do too many night shoots with him because that's when he would be wide awake and flap about (and anyway, day shots look much better on camera). As a result, during the day, I you'd find me sitting and waiting for hours on end, just to capture him awake, doing any activity at all. Since the authorities are very strict about Sirocco's habitat and schedule, and a barrage of tourists come every day to meet him (he is an adorable creature who looks like a cross between a parrot and a stuffed teddy bear), I had to be very thorough with my storyboarding — I would only get a few hours to shoot.

Q. What past experience have you had with filmmaking in general?

A. I have made films for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Government of India before, but I like telling everybody that this is my first film because it's the first time I have exercised complete creative control over a project. I grew up as a child actor in the '90s, surrounded by ad, film and TV personalities such as Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen around me. Over time, growing up on set, I realised what I want to pursue was actually direction behind the camera, not acting. I am fortunate that things seem to be working out for me. The Green Oscars nomination is validation of the fact that I have made the right choice, so I'm quite thrilled about it.

Q. How did you train to be a wildlife filmmaker?

A. My initial training period was in South Africa, where I realised I wanted to be a wildlife filmmaker. I was working at the Masai Mara for some time, before I was certain that this is what I wanted to do. Then I went on to attend a documentary course on Science and Natural History in New Zealand.

Q. Why did you take up wildlife as your career of choice in particular?

A. I have literally put my two favourite things in life together by getting into this profession. I have always been very fond of animals (all kinds of strays) and like I said, I have grown up on film and television sets. Over time, my interest in all things behind the camera grew more than any love for acting. It may have seemed like a strange choice when I suddenly took up wildlife documentation, but for people who really know me, this was the natural resolution for my career — combining two of my passions — films and animals.

Q. Any exciting plans for the future?

A. I am currently working on a couple of international productions in India. I have shot quite a bit abroad, but not so much here. I want to explore the rich diversity of wildlife that we have in our country, so I have taken up projects in and around India — I'm headed to Kashmir right now!

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