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Vidya Athreya

The wildlife activist on putting a radio collar around Ajoba—the leopard and hero of an upcoming film—and studying man-animal conflict.

Vidya Athreya
Vidya Athreya

Tell us about Ajoba.

In 2009, Ajoba was rescued in Ahmednagar district and I put a radio collar around his neck when he was released. He was the first leopard in Maharashtra to be fitted with a GPS collar.

How did the film take off?

Sujoy Dahake told me he was looking for a protagonist for his next film (after Shala), and he had zeroed in on Ajoba.

Were you involved in its scripting?

No. I did go through the first two drafts. As long as issues are not sensationalised, I am fine.

The character Urmila Matondkar plays is based on you. Isn’t that sensational?

Yeah, but the film’s hero is the leopard. I'm not a movie buff, just want people to see the film and understand the subject.

Are you okay with cinematic liberties? Did they have to seek your approval?

Not at all. There are a few changes in the story, but I haven’t seen the final cut.

Have you been involved in filmmaking?

Yes, we made an awareness film called Vaghacha Khatla (Leopard’s Trial). It was by noted filmmakers Girish and Umesh Kulkarni.

Were you emotionally involved with Ajoba?

Yes, I was, though I never saw him after I put the collar. I couldn’t even reach when he was killed in an accident.

What is your take on man-animal conflict?

It’s a subject with social, cultural implications. Animals don't understand boundaries, no matter how many national parks you draw up.

Are animals made pawns in village politics?

Conflict happens where there are human settlements. Often, a leopard becomes merely a tool in village politics.

How will the film help your cause?

The activist isn’t the most important thing about the film, but the broader issue is. As long as that is highlighted, I am happy.

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