Wild Karnataka, touted as the first Indian wildlife documentary to be released in the cinemas, offers 53 minutes of ooh-ing and aah-ing. The subject is a worthy one – a showcase of Karnataka’s astonishingly rich bio-diversity. The footage, steered by directors Amoghavarsha and Kalyan Varma and shot by a minor army of cinematographers in crisp 4K resolution, is a deft mix of drone shots, close-ups, hidden views and portraiture. Filmed over four years and voiced by no less than David Attenborough, the documentary is being screened in PVR theatres around the country.

There isn’t a human in sight as we contemplate the riches and intelligence of nature and wonder what Earth would be like if Homo Sapiens ceased to exist, or retreated at the very least. Seen in their habitat, seemingly untrammeled by the human beings concealed behind the bushes or the cameras dug into the ground, the peacocks dazzle with their vanity and the sand bubbler crabs impress with their engineering skills. The predator-prey dyad results in some hilarious battles. Pick your favourite – otters versus an adult tiger; sambar deer facing a pack of dholes; langurs sharing their tree with a leopard; young jungle cats too curious to resist a cobra.

Alongside the endless search for food, there are mating games. The toss-up for the most romantic moment prize is between the male foot flagging frog affecting a Ganesh Acharya dance move to get noticed and the draco lizard who sails from one tree to the next to woo his object of desire.

Wild Karnataka (2020).

The account of the species surviving the seasons is sometimes a bit too rushed, and the background music, by Ricky Kej, often drowns out Attenborough’s precise diction. Kej’s score appears to be an attempt to dress up the proceedings, but this film works just fine on the strength of the marvellous footage. Amidst the creatures that unwittingly pose for wondrous close-ups is a majestic king cobra. Anecdotes about how cobras hunt their prey and how the female cobra builds her nest could well be spun off into a separate film.

Has the documentary been made to promote the efforts of the Karnataka Forest Department or plug wildlife tourism? The first effort is laudatory, and the second is shudder-worthy. Wild Karnataka has nothing to say about the potential threats to any of the species it features, nor is the phrase “climate change” ever mentioned. The visuals speak for themselves: here is a corner of India that needs sustained funding and support so that all its creatures, great and small, may live, love and feast for eternity.

Wild Karnataka (2020). Courtesy Karnataka Forest Department.