By Tony Tharakan
NEW DELHI, June 27 (Reuters) - An Oscar-nominated filmmaker will exhort Indians to conserve wildlife with a new film, but the message is contained in a racy thriller set in a famous tiger sanctuary instead of in a preachy documentary.
"The Forest" is director Ashvin Kumar's attempt to awaken the conscience of a country that once had an abundance of forest and wildlife, but which decades of neglect and poaching have nearly wiped out.
India's wildlife crisis, highlighted best by the dwindling tiger and lion population, has led to a huge outcry from conservationists and experts, forcing authorities to declare new measures to save the big cats.
Kumar said he avoided sounding like a crusader in his film because conservation could be more effectively conveyed through a feature film. So, he wove it into the story of a married couple holidaying in a forest, where a leopard maimed by poachers is on the prowl.
"Rather than preaching through wildlife documentaries and promotional films, I felt why not deliver a message through the medium of an entertaining feature film," Kumar told Reuters.
"I have been enjoying the jungles since I was a child and I find that maybe my children won't be able to. That's a big problem."
With about 3,700 of them, India is home to half the world's surviving tigers. But conservationists say it is losing the battle to save the animal considering there were about 40,000 of them in the country a century ago.
Poaching and habitat destruction are also the reason why many other species of flora and fauna in India are disappearing, they say.
Kumar, whose short film "Little Terrorist" about a Pakistani boy who strayed into India was nominated for an Oscar in 2005, says his new film aims to reach out to people unaware of the extent of poaching in India's forests.
"I picked up on poaching because it was something I could weave into a movie."
For inspiration, the filmmaker turned to the works of Jim Corbett, the British hunter-conservationist after whom a famous national park at the foothills of the Himalayas is named and where the film was largely shot.
"The Forest", which open in cinemas in September, has dialogue in Hindi and English and stars Bollywood actors Javed Jaffrey and Nandana Sen.
Anticipating trouble from animal rights activists in India, Kumar shot all the scenes involving a leopard in Thailand.
"It's really ironic that a film that tries to highlight this crisis could not be shot in its own country," he said.