For filmmaker Subbiah Nallamuthu, following a character is one of the most important parts of creating a great storyline. While this may be true for any filmmaker trying to present a believable narrative in front of the audience, the only difference is that Nallamuthu’s protagonists are tigers. Machli, Sundari and Maya are not just big cats, but some of the iconic characters for this wildlife filmmaker.
The World’s Most Famous Tiger, about Machli, the famous tigress from the forests of Ranthambore, won the filmmaker his fifth National Award in August 2019. Machli is also the star of another widely acclaimed film, Tiger Queen, which chronicles her journey of 19 years.
Nallamuthu, who is based in Chennai, was in Pune recently for an event organised by a women-only wildlife tourism club named Jungle Belles. The event was aimed at encouraging women to travel and discover the jungles of India.
“'The tiger is a very challenging animal. You need to follow them for years, to learn their body language and emotions before you can get a story out of it. You can’t go out for 10 days and expect to find a story about tigers,” he says.
Still from The World’s Most Famous Tiger.
After graduating from MGR Government Film and Television Training Institute, Chennai (FTTI), he started his journey by working with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Films Division only to realise his passion lies somewhere else. The urge of doing something on his own became the driving force behind making wildlife films. He says, “I did all sorts of works ranging from environment to travel to automobile to reality TV. I even worked for National Geographic. But, between all these commercial things, I thought that wildlife was the only subject I could do on my own. This is one reason why my stories are powerful. It’s one man’s vision,” he says.
His idea for a great film on wildlife is about humanising the animal. “In our country, fiction is very effective is reaching out to audiences. If you give out jargon like ‘save the tiger’, it is not going to work. You have to have a story. You have to humanise the animal,” he says.
Though he keeps a rough structure of a film in his mind, Nallamuthu’s stories are made during the process. “You go to the field you get all sorts of scenes and sequences and you have to stitch them together. There is no plan and you spend years doing that,” he says. Nallamuthu adds that, contrary to their reputation, tigers are very safe animals.
Is the filmmaker also an activist for the tiger? “I am a filmmaker, not a conservationist,” he says. “I try to see my character, give them importance and shed some positive light so that before somebody kills a tiger, they will stop and think once. That’s all I can do as a film-maker. For me, the whole thing is a story,” adds Nallamuthu, who is currently working on a project about a tigress in Tadoba.