For a number of reasons, I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands this month. And as is normal nowadays, that led me straight into the tender, loving embrace of Netflix. Which is why I found myself watching Kaal after about a decade. Don’t judge me: I was just saving the better stuff for later, though I confess I hugely enjoyed it.
Do you remember this? It’s a bizarre movie, half Final Destination, half love song to John Abraham’s chest, with a few unhealthy looking tigers thrown in. There’s supposed to be some kind of evil spirit as well, but scarier than that is the item number the movie starts with. The acting is bad enough to make you wonder what they were all smoking (though Lara Dutta screams well). Esha Deol is stuffed into clothes that Lara Croft would wear if she decided to go into adult films, and they show you shots of fruit bats as something to creep you out. I mean, honestly. Still, between scenes of John Abraham trying to look grim under his boy band hair and Vivek Oberoi threatening to kill people every three seconds, you get some really lovely, atmospheric shots of Corbett National Park, and that makes it worth all the trouble. It’s called Orbit National Park in the movie, which fools you completely, but there’s slanting sunlight through tall trees, mist over a cold, clear river, yellow fields of tall grass that make you a little nervous just looking at them, because you know damn well that’s tiger territory right there. You want to really be there, even at the risk of running into a terrifying, supernatural entity (Esha Deol’s clothing, not the ghost).
The reason I’m confessing to this crime of judgment is because it’s clear to me that wildlife and nature don’t mix very well with being imaginative. Nature is both beautiful enough and scary enough to not need embellishment. I have, for better or worse, a terribly active imagination, and it doesn’t help me one bit. At 13, inspired by Gerald Durrell to go explore the hills around my house in Goa, I went tramping through the bushes in misty monsoon weather, only to convince myself that there were man-eating tigers lurking behind every leaf—about a hundred metres from my gate. Heart thumping, running as fast as my jelly-like legs could carry me, I got home, bolted the doors, and didn’t venture out again till I’d grown up a bit. Not that much, as it turned out, because I then caught myself reading a Jim Corbett anthology, and reached the story about the nocturnal man-eating leopard of Panar just as we got to Sariska. It’s difficult to describe just how long that shower seemed to take on a still night in a gloomy bathroom in Sariska Palace, with the voices of jackals carrying perfectly through that one high, unbarred window that I was eyeing with mounting terror. I survived, but I even looked at the palace’s French bulldogs with great suspicion the next morning. Hey, who can tell?
Better to stick to realism. Better to sit in a garden and listen to the birds, or go into a reserve and explain to the naturalist that yes, you’d love to see a tiger, but not at the expense of missing out every other thing there is, and that should he lead you into one of those circuses, where one poor tiger is surrounded by a hundred selfie-taking tourists, it’s his liver that will be on the barbecue tonight.
Or watch Hatari, the original (and still best) man-and-wild movie, where the animals don’t have to get all supernatural, just completely adorable. That cheetah in the hotel? I want one, and my birthday is in July, so you can’t say you didn’t have enough time to get me one. (Of course, it’s not clear whether a modern audience would tolerate a movie about a band of not-very-grown-up men catching animals for zoos—I can see accusations of sexism, racism, speciesism and every other ism there, but hey, the music was terrific.) The flip side is The Ghost and The Darkness—there really isn’t a scarier movie anywhere. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat. Even Val Kilmer acts well in this one. And then, try not to let out a piercing squeal every time you see grass waving in the wind. For the rest of your life.
Like I said, don’t mix imagination and wildlife. It’s a recipe for disaster. Except for Jurassic Park, because dinosaurs are awesome.
is a travel, car, and humour writer and editor, who is known for road trips, generalised exasperation and far too many bathroom stops.
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