Leapfrogging for a healthy fauna

The Secret Life of Frogs' by filmmakers Vijay Bedi and Ajay Bedi, was recently screened at the 50th International Film Festival of India in Goa, Arti Das

Torrent frog

What do we know about frogs apart from the fact that they croak? Ask the Bedi brothers, who stated that these tiny creatures, some of which can sometimes be as small as a human thumbnail, are the biometres of a healthy forest.

Throwing light on such important aspects, and more, is the documentary The Secret Life of Frogs (2019) by filmmakers Vijay Bedi and Ajay Bedi, which was recently screened at the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. This film won the silver at the Cannes Corporate TV & Media Awards, 2018 and also the Best Directors Award for Documentary at Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, 2019.

The 54-minute documentary, shot extensively in the Western Ghats, gives a glimpse of the not-so-known Purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), which according to experts, is believed to have co-existed along with dinosaurs, that is almost 70 million years ago. It has a bloated body with short stout limbs and is dark purple to greyish in colour. It was first discovered in the year 2003 in Kerala. It is also highly threatened. This is the first film on amphibians of India and it is for the first time that the breeding season of this species has been captured on camera.

Ajay Bedi
Ajay Bedi

Long wait

Vijay Bedi, who spent three years to make the film, said that due to various factors, filming this phenomenon on camera was indeed a challenge. “Purple frog comes out of hibernation only for a day in a year. So, when we shot the first year, there were only tadpoles, the second year there was no rainfall and third year, on the last day of our shoot, we could film the entire breeding behaviour,” says Vijay.

For the Bedi brothers, selecting amphibians for their documentary was quite natural as they had already made films on snow leopards, tigers, elephants and they had the urge to shift the focus on the lesser-known fauna of the country. Interestingly, they thought this filming process would be easy. But, it came with its share of problems. “The first thing that comes to our mind when we think of frogs is night and so there’s no light to shoot. We used red light to track them and then we innovated ourselves to shoot them because if we use strong light they may get disturbed,” says Vijay. As frogs are mostly found near flowing streams and in the rainy season, it was necessary to keep their cameras and themselves secure from these elements.

Vijay Bedi
Vijay Bedi

Breeding patterns

“Almost after a month of shooting, our skin started peeling off, so we tried to use anti-fungal powder to keep ourselves dry. Filming the snow leopard in minus temperature or wild asses in 55 degrees was easier than this,” elaborates Vijay. Ajay adds that it was important for them to be very observant of every move of the frog. “When you film bigger animals you can see them. Observing frogs and their behaviour was very difficult as you have to use macro lenses and your eyes should be wide open just like frogs to observe their movements. While filming Torrent frogs (Micrixalus), who attracts a female by dancing, it was necessary to see his moves, fingers, toes, and to portray that,” says Ajay.  The film shows breeding patterns of not only purple frog but also torrent frog, Kumbara night frog (Nyctibatrachus kumbara), which is also known as potter frog, as he plasters eggs with mud to protect from predators, among others.

They shot 36 species of frogs out of 400 species found in India. This documentary is also helpful from the research point of view as it has filmed sequences and behaviours of the frogs, many for the first time. However, they didn’t want to make the documentary based only on facts and figures. “The trick to making a good film is to get the scientific data and make it visually strong so it would co-relate with people,” says Vijay as they specially designed the music to show the dance of a torrent frog. 
The film also focuses on the threat to these species as nearly one-third of the amphibian population is threatened due to various factors like climate change, habitat destruction, fungal infection and pesticides used in farms.

“Amphibians are not only found in protected zones but a lot of other areas also and we are losing our habitat very fast. The second threat is climate change as the rainfall pattern is changing. Also, mini-hydro dams stop the flow of water but frogs need flowing water to breed,” says Vijay.  Ajay adds, “Change in the direction of flow of a river makes a lot of difference.”

 

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