When filmmakers Ajay and Vijay Bedi set out to document Indian frog species in the Western ghats, they thought their quest would be easy. The amphibians, however, turned out to be more elusive than anticipated. It took three years and multiple visits to complete The Secret Life of Frogs, but the results exceeded their expectations, the twins told Scroll.in in separate phone interviews.
The Secret Life of Frogs, shot by Ajay and narrated by Vijay, details the fascinating behaviours of some lesser-known frog species. The 45-minute film includes the purple frog, which emerges only during the monsoon, and the torrent frog, which seduces its mate by dancing.
“We thought it would be a piece of cake to shoot these tiny creatures because we have had experience shooting in extreme weather conditions, but soon we realised that it was not so easy,” Vijay Bedi recalled.
The award-winning filmmakers, who are the sons of acclaimed wildlife photographer Naresh Bedi and the grandsons of photographer Ramesh Bedi, described the documentary as an “entertaining conservation film”. The Secret Life of Frogs will be premiered on the Animal Planet channel on May 1.
Reports of the dwindling frog population across the world prompted the Bedi brothers to make the documentary. A recent study estimates that around 200 frog species have disappeared from the world since the 1970s, and hundreds more are projected to go in the next century, The New York Times reported in 2018. In March, researchers said that over the last half century, a fungal disease had caused a decline in the population of at least 501 amphibian species and led to the presumed extinctions of 90 species.
“Nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species is threatened with extinction,” Ajay Bedi observed. “Amphibian populations face threats from pollution, habitat loss, climate change and even over harvesting for food grains in some countries. Even when we were filming, we could see that frogs were showing increasing signs of deformities and mutations. Some tadpoles had extra limbs or missing limbs, missing tails and eyes.”
Despite the statistics, amphibians are often overshadowed by big cats and other mammals when it comes to conservation efforts, Vijay Bedi said. “Frogs are totally neglected, and we are scared that these species will go extinct when India goes into higher economic growth,” he added. “The main objective was to give voices to these little creatures and get this film to as many Indians as possible and tell them that they are Indian frogs and we need to save them.”
The Bedi brothers also wanted to highlight the behavioural patterns of frog species. But there were many hurdles along their way. Their first visit was timed after the end of the monsoon, robbing them of the chance to see the purple frog. Drought played spoiler during their second visit. The third time was a charm.
Technical challenges also abounded. “Everything was new to us and we had to try and see what would work for us,” Viiay Bedi said.
One such workaround was to experiment with lighting. “Frogs are very sensitive to light, and as soon as any light is thrown onto them, they stop performing,” Ajay Bedi explained. “Initially we used a lot of red lights to kind of adapt ourselves to them and not disturbing them. Once they got used to it, we slowly started using white light as they got adapted to the light.”
Shooting pocket-sized species also required innovative camera techniques. “If you are filming tigers and other animals, you can still sit or stand and shoot, but for frogs, you have to lie straight on the ground in streams of water to shoot,” Ajay Bedi said. “You also have to really open your eyes and spot them. At the blink of an eye, they would just move on from one stone to another. We used to sit in water for hours doing nothing, just to get used to their environment.”
The conservation-themed documentaries by the siblings include Cherub of the Mist, which studies the rare red pandas in their natural habitat in the Eastern Himalayas. The film was directed by Naresh Bedi and lensed by the twins.
An interest in wildlife runs in the family. Ajay and Vijay remember accompanying their father on wildlife photography expeditions. “We also had a lot of animals like snakes and squirrels in our house, growing up,” Ajay said. “We would often go to the zoo and spend hours observing animal behaviour.”
Watching their father and grandfather in action has shaped their perspective towards their craft. “Today’s generation is about quick work and quick money,” Vijay Bedi said. “But what we learnt from our father and grandfather was a lot of patience and hard work. When we spent three years on this film, we did not mind it. It comes back to your individual effort at the end of the day.”