Deep in the woods, a wildlife conversationist, Dr. Rajeev Kapoor (Rajesh Tailang), is obsessed with tracing Zoya, a missing tiger, who was once his responsibility, after being rehabilitated into a new forest zone. A man of few words, Kapoor doggedly sets camera traps to capture the movement of the beast, breaking protocols and risking his safety. He is solely focused on one tiger, much to the bewilderment of an accompanying intern (Manjot Singh), who is equally amused and curious about Kapoor’s obsession with the tiger. Sahirr Sethhi’s short film Zoya takes the viewers along with Kapoor into the recesses of Kanha Tiger Reserve, bringing to fore a larger metaphorical question of personal fulfilment and the loss of nature, often in a much too obvious fashion, but raises pertinent questions nonetheless.
A well-intentioned concept, Sethhi’s film finds its origins in the director’s admiration for tigers and his desire to explore the mindset of a wildlife conservationist. He vividly remembers the first time he saw a tiger in the forest as a 15-year-old and the sheer awe of spotting the beast. The 27-minute film falls short of bringing out that astonishment. The attempt to make a larger point about the interdependence of nature and man’s longing to fix his failures remains on the surface, and the film is unable to bring out the complexities involved in the process. The dots are too obvious to be connected and appear parabolic. The film is shot with care and simplicity but there’s also a lack of an imaginative eye. Although what makes the film engrossing, is the timing of its release. A year after Greta Thunberg’s global climate crisis campaign, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinstated the dominance of nature and its adamantine bond with mankind. “Today, we take a step back and watch nature heal itself and Zoya emphasises the importance of preserving nature and wildlife,” says 32-year-old Sethhi.
Films, both fiction and documentaries, which are shot in the wild often raise an ethical question: how do you capture nature without violating it? Zoya was filmed across six days, during safaris and nature hikes, while the wildlife was captured from a distance during a few recces before the shoot. “We couldn’t treat those areas like any other film set, and had to shoot without interference,” shares Sethhi. The film is shot with sensitivity towards the forest, and that’s visible in Sethhi’s inclusion of intimate, yet distant framing of animals.
The making of this short film involved research on how tiger conservationists capture the movements of the beast, as well as the inclusion of the process in the narrative. The technicality of the conservation methods is smoothly woven in the narrative. It’s engaging to observe how meticulously one can trace the presence of tigers in the vastness of a forest, yet the protagonist’s repeated failure to do so, is a timely reminder of nature’s upper hand over humanity.
Zoya is currently streaming on Mubi India.