Filmmaker Akanksha Sood On Her Tryst With The Wild And More

National award-winning filmmaker Akanksha Sood tells Outlook Traveller about her Women of the Wild project and a life-changing experience
Sood in Drass, Kargil
Sood in Drass, KargilCourtesy: Akanksha Sood

Akanksha Sood is a wildlife filmmaker and the director of "On the Brink," a Hotstar series that documents rare and unknown species in the Indian wild. Akanksha is also the founder of the Women of the Wild project, a community-based initiative exploring untold stories of women working for science and nature in India. This project is a networking platform for women in botany, veterinary sciences, climate change policy and wildlife biology, among other fields.

Tell us about Women of the Wild. What motivated you to start this project?

Women of the Wild began around the pandemic. I’m an advisory council member for the Jackson Wild International Festival, and at that time, we were working on a plan to organise storytelling workshops for women in STEM. But I realized there wasn’t enough diversity of people in this field; this led me to discover new stories and faces in India. Women of the Wild eventually became a sort of Yellow Pages for women working in science and nature. It has transformed into a wonderful networking and job posting platform. After the success of the India chapter, I am now exploring the Pakistan and Malaysia chapters of the initiative.

As a wildlife filmmaker, you’ve focused on rare species in On the Brink. What drives your interest?

My husband and I are both wildlife filmmakers; we started our careers filming big cats. After filming tigers in multiple formats, we decided to document lesser-known species; this is where the idea for On the Brink came into being. In the docudrama series, a scientist with over a decade of experience discusses these endangered species.

In the third season, we cover marine animals, including sharks, dugongs and corals. Our first step is to create a dialogue about the endangered status of these lesser-known species. We must become aware of the threat their extinction poses before we try to prevent it.

Photo: Suresh K. Pandey

What are some of the biggest challenges that these species face?

There is deforestation, pollution, and land pattern changes vis-a-vis habitat shrinkage. But depending on the species, one factor plays up over the other. For example, if you look at the trans-Himalayan landscape, snow leopards, bears, and Himalayan lynxes are the most affected by climate change. When it comes to species like the Indian wolf, the depletion of grasslands is a big factor. As of now, grasslands are being treated as wastelands. There are conversations about reclaiming grasslands for industry, housing and development. So, for a wolf, grassland depletion is a stronger factor than climate change.

Tell us about your experience documenting flamingos for the third season of "On the Brink."

When documenting flamingos in India, most people end up in Gujarat. But there are resident flamingos in the wetlands across Delhi as well. These flamingos are not migratory birds. Their population is roughly 2,000, but the breeding season was not very successful post-pandemic because of erratic summers. Despite being an urban landscape, Delhi has green belts that sustain wildlife— big cats and hyenas are thriving in the Aravalli belt.

Did you have any life-changing experiences while shooting in the wild?

The first one was meeting my husband (laughs). Jokes aside, we did a two-part series at Gir National Park, “Manas: Return of the Giants.” This series was a story about India’s wandering Gir lions. For this project, we had to film without any source of light. We were trained to use infrared goggles.

I remember when we were in our open filming jeep. It was sunset, and we had just entered the park. There was a lion on the left and a lioness on the right, and our jeep was right in the middle of them. When the jeep stopped, I was at eye level with the female in heat. She was about 15 feet from me and looked me straight in the eye. I was terrified. The eye contact lasted about three seconds and meant, “you are trespassing.”

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