The new Prime Video series Poacher has been inspired by an actual haul of illegally obtained ivory in 2015. The operation exposed a staggering, well-oiled elephant poaching racket that is the biggest such crime of its kind till date.

Poacher will be premiered on February 23. The show’s producers include Alia Bhatt’s company Eternal Sunshine Productions. The eight-episode series from Delhi Crime creator-director Richie Mehta stars Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Nimisha Sajayan and Roshan Mathew in the lead roles. Unusually, Poacher is in multiple languages (Malayalam, English, Hindi) – an advantage rather than a creative risk, Mehta told Scroll.

What kind of research went into creating Poacher?

The research period was about two years, whereby I would meet various individuals in the Kerala Forest Department – spread out over India – and NGO workers from the Wildlife Trust of India. Each one had a unique perspective on this case – the largest elephant poaching case in Indian history –about the life of frontline planetary health workers, and the personal and professional dangers involved.

I also met with accused poachers – those currently fighting in the courts, and those who had turned witnesses for the prosecution. I would interview them (often more than once) and the environments and circumstances in which we met was often just as telling as was the information they provided.

Roshan Mathew in Poacher (2024). Courtesy QC Entertainment/Suitable Pictures/Poor Man’s Productions/Eternal Sunshine Productions/Prime Video.

The show has been filmed on several actual locations, including jungles. What were the challenges?

The overall attitude was that we are shooting in live jungles for months, and we are there as guests, so we must not disrupt any aspect of that place. That includes trampling or interfering with the natural world. Any time an animal needed to pass, we would stop and back off.

Creatively, shooting in the real locations, knowing that there truly is minimal aesthetic artifice, was a thrill.

It’s a risk to make a multi-lingual show with a diverse cast.

I don’t believe it’s a risk to depict what is real. In fact, I feel that it gives credit to an audience to show reality. The reality of the situation was that it was a case led by people speaking Malayalam, and also supported by people speaking Hindi, English, even Bengali. It’s a pan-India story about people from various cultures coming together to do what is right for the world, and their motivation transcends language barriers.

Mukesh Chhabra and his team cast the series, and Mukesh came up with Nimisha for the lead. I was unsure as I had not seen her work, but when I saw The Great Indian Kitchen, I was incredibly moved by her performance. I then auditioned her and was 100% convinced. Same with Roshan and with Dibyendu – we auditioned them both and they just nailed it.

How did Alia Bhatt come on board?

She was the first person to watch all eight completed episodes, and she responded as a human being – she was so moved. We discussed the series at length (how we pulled it off, what my intention was). And after that, she asked, “How can I help?” The rest is history.

Richie Mehta.

What are the challenges of making a show about wildlife at a time when there are restrictions on depicting animals on the screen? Did you use a mix of actual animals and visual effects?

We did, in fact, use VFX. And they are world-class. They were created by MPC, the premiere animal/creature VFX house in the world, and all by Indian artists. The animal-thread of this story is crucial, and something that I planned for years, and MPC delivered beyond my imagination, on par with reality.

Poacher (2024).