The Weekend Leader – Animals for all; not for filmmakers!

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Photo: IANS

We have a lot of animal rights putting pressure on the film industry, and it only adds to the filmmakers’ troubles! Is the film industry the only punching bag for every group that has been assigned some responsibility by the Government of India?

Be it any statutory body or non-governmental organisation, the members, once appointed, assume powers not vested in them. And while their notes are quick, their judgments are sweeping and quasi-dictatorial.

This time, it is the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), which was created in 1962 after the passage of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) as a Controller of Animal Use. Like most statutory bodies set up by the government, which claim to have a purpose but actually have no purpose, a job assigned to this body has also been impractical and responsibilities handed over without much thought.

AWBI operates on the assumption that all those who use animals as part of their work, or who make a living from animals or with the help of animals, are considered cruel to them. Too often, the idea of ​​animals in human life seems to be looked down upon as cruelty.

The problem, from what I have gathered from the work done thus far by AWBI, and the conclusions they have reached, is that it has not yet served its purpose.

Animals are often used for entertainment purpose. So what’s wrong? Even dogs and cats are kept as pets and their purpose is to entertain as well as provide companionship to families, especially children.

If there are complaints about animal abuse, or even cruelty, it is about people who keep pets and give them up when they get old or sick, rather than giving them medical and other care. Those who keep dairy animals have been known to leave them on the streets to fend for themselves as soon as they stop using them. But AWBI always finds faults with filmmakers, accusing them of cruelty to animals.

Filmmakers, according to the AWBI, are reckless while filming animals. They are, in fact, very alert. Usually, not only is the animal performing actor in front of the camera, there can also be a human actor in the frame and adequate precautions are taken. The same animal trained in a shootout is needed for continuity as well and no craftsman can afford to damage it.

Recently, a horse died while filming a Tamil movie, “Ponniyin Selvan: I”. The film is a historical drama directed by Mani Ratnam. When a movie about a period is made against a historical background, horses, elephants, etc. are irreplaceable.

After this incident, a whistleblower reported PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an NGO, which referred the matter to the AWBI which asked the concerned area collector to look into the matter and punish those responsible! What does a detective do on the set of a movie? Does that mean PETA employs spies on animal movie sets?

Beta, for its part, can start getting rid of electrolytes. Especially dogs that bark all night and bite any passerby! This is cruelty to humans. They spoil not only a person’s sleep at night, but also the next day. They can also do something about neglected cows and other similar animals on roads and highways because they cause accidents that cost human lives.

What happened on the sets of ‘Ponniyin Selvan: I’ was an accident. Accidents are not planned.

AWBI releases a blanket statement (it’s not mentioned on any grounds, it’s probably a heresy!). The AWBI report noted that stressed animals are often relocated to remote locations, where they are exposed to the chaotic conditions of film set, and that trainers routinely use methods that involve coercion or punishment.

AWBI noted that animals used in the entertainment industry are typically separated from their mothers as infants, beaten or starved during training, forced to perform confusing or dangerous tricks, and restrained or locked in a cage when not in use.

The above notes are completely off the mark. Film animals are not animals taken to slaughterhouses or smuggled across borders so they must be transported in the manner described by the AWBI. Film sets are not parliamentary sessions, they are chaotic. Trainers love their animals and never punish them.

These animals are well fed and cared for more than the kids of the trainer, they provide special meals and when it comes to some animals like dogs, fans or even air conditioners they are arranged in summer! If an animal is ever made up to perform a trick, it is trained to do so. Only ignorance will say that an animal can perform a trick by force!

No details available yet, but the AWBI went ahead and suggested that the filmmakers not use actual animals, but use special effects and computers for this! Is this a joke? How can one make a historical movie using computer-generated horses, camels and elephants, that too in the hundreds?

Isn’t there a single member of the 28-member AWBI who has a basic knowledge of how films are made? What do these 28 members do if the body needs beta to act as their informant?

Since man has tamed, shackled or abolished animals, this particular act can be described as a cruel act! AWBI and PETA may start from there and move on to slaughterhouses, sacrificial practice, military, tourists, pilgrims, and others who use animals. All this amounts to cruelty to animals as much as they are used in filming.

The AWBI could also suggest stopping the railways in Assam because wild elephants are regularly killed on the railways (two were killed last Tuesday).

There have been animal movies playing a pivotal role that have been very successful with children and family. These films show the relationship between man and animal and how they stand by each other.

There was this famous director from the South, Sandow MMA Chinnappa Devar, who made nearly thirty films in his time and many with an animal that was part of the cast. In fact, Devar was said to own a small zoo and take care of his animals like his family. He branched out into making Hindi films with Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), a remake of his Tamil film Deiva Cheyal.

“Haathi Mere Saathi” was such a hit that Devar remade the movie as “Nalla Neram”! This should definitely be a unique example of a movie remake of it! Other Hindi films of Divar, with animals playing a prominent role, are “Gaai Aur Gori”, “Mera Rakshak”, “Janwar Aur Insaan”, “Raaja”, “Maa” and “Shubh Din”.

In fact, some of the biggest songs have featured animals in the cast performing important roles. Some that come to mind are “Mein Pyar Kia” (AWBI standards also include birds), “Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!” , “Teri Meherbaniyan”, “Nagina”, “Parivaar” and “Khoon Bhari Maang”,

Movies with animals in the cast need AWBI approval and there are fees stated on the AWBI website. Given the number of films that have been made in India, one can safely assume that six to ten films come to the board for approval (it is necessary for the film to have AWBI approval if there is an animal in any frame). Even the last movie that shows a kid playing with a rabbit had to get AWBI’s approval!

The AWBI office is located in Chennai, but for whatever reason, it has been relocated at Ballabhgarh in Haryana, a two-hour drive from Delhi. The logic of this transfer defies logic. Now, to deal with AWBI, the producer needs to involve an agent. Well, when the agent comes into the picture, one can imagine all sorts of things going on.

In truth, a body like the AWBI serves no real purpose except to waste taxpayers’ money. – Ian


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