Croaking Frogs won the Golden Beaver — the first prize — in the Out of the Box category for films by media institutions, film schools, university and college students.
* The film looked at a project that seeks to restore an amphibian breeding site around the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, on the outskirts of Delhi
* Since a frog’s semi-permeable skin makes it extra sensitive to environmental changes, it is an effective indicator of pollution levels in water ecosystems
Who’d have thought a frog would have so much to croak about? But it does. Ask Harshil Tewatia and Aditya, students of Delhi’s Sri Venkateswara College, who have just won a prestigious award for their film on frogs.
The documentary won the first prize at the just concluded National Science Film Festival. The entries in the 10th edition of the biggest Indian fest of films on science — screened online this year — were assessed by a 10-member jury. Out of a total of 372 films in various Indian languages, 115 films were shortlisted under different categories. The winners were announced by renowned film-maker Girish Kasaravalli last month.
Croaking Frogs won the Golden Beaver — the first prize — in the Out of the Box category for films by media institutions, film schools, university and college students. The winners, students and faculty of Sri Venkateswara College of the Delhi University which also funded the project, will receive a cash prize of ₹1 lakh. The Golden Beaver Award under the Interface-Films category was awarded to Chalti Kaa Naam Ooshma, directed by Seema Muralidhara and HB Muralidhara, and in the Fusion category to The Climate Challenge, directed by Rakesh Rao.
Directed by Aditya (who goes by just one name) and written by Tewatia, Croaking Frogs looked at a project that seeks to restore an amphibian breeding site around the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, on the outskirts of Delhi, and is documenting the anuran (frog-family) biodiversity in the water-body ecosystem around Delhi NCR. “Since frogs are a great environmental marker for any ecosystem, our research provides insight into the health of water-bodies around Delhi,” says Sri Venkateswara College assistant professor and amphibian biologist Robin Suyesh, who has been leading the project.
The presence of a good number of frogs in an area indicates that they are working well as pest controllers, for they prey on insects. The amphibians, in turn, are food for species such as snakes and kites, further up the food chain. And since a frog’s semi-permeable skin also makes it extra sensitive to environmental changes, it is an effective indicator of pollution levels in water ecosystems.
The park is one of the best places to find local amphibians as it has eight sympatric amphibians, that is, different kinds of amphibians occupying the same geographical area. However, the Aravallis have also seen rampant illegal mining, which has wreaked ecological havoc in the hills spread over parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. But measures against rampant mining have been enforced by various court orders in recent times, leading to some restoration of damaged sites.
The idea of a documentary struck Aditya, a mathematics student, last year while he and his college mates were in the process of cleaning a former mining site so that they could observe the species in the area for a project to study ecology and diversity of amphibians in the Aravallis . “We began with no particular idea in mind,” Aditya says.
But while working there, the team soon decided to document their observations and efforts to raise awareness about the threat to biodiversity and the place of each species in the ecological system. Their 10-minute documentary on the role that the amphibians play in safeguarding the environment went on to win the top award at the November festival, organised by Vigyan Prasar in collaboration with the Tripura State Council for Science & Technology.
“If you look around yourself, you will find that no one really cares about frogs. But they make a huge difference in the ecological chain,” Tewatia stresses.
Farmers in the area the team interacted with were aware of the role that frogs play, but they also rely on pesticides for their crops, which harm the frogs as well as poison waterbodies.
As amphibians inhabit land and water, they are hit by toxicity in both land and water. Moreover, frogs may live on land but they mate only in water, which often means travelling to nearby water sources during the mating season. Habitat fragmentation on account of construction or mining has devastating consequences for a frog’s ability to migrate to a nearby waterbody and maintain its population, the film-makers stress.
The result, as the documentary points out, is that locals who have lived in Delhi for long years recall that there were more frogs to be seen in the city earlier. “From the entire film that was the line my mother related to the most,” says Tewatia. The reason is simple: The population of frogs has plummeted in recent years.
“More surveys of population and research into the biodiversity of anurans around the NCR would be a much-needed start to fixing the problem. At present, this area remains largely unexplored,” says Suyesh, who also conducted an amphibian survey last year.
On a brighter note, the documentary, shot on a Nikon DSLR camera and edited on Aditya’s laptop, also highlights the potential of restoration in reviving ecological chains. Its final shot is that of a burrowing frog — a rare species Suyesh discovered last year at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park. “The fact that we could capture that footage at the site means the ecosystem is in a relatively healthy shape,” Aditya points out. This shows that conservation efforts made in Haryana have the potential to restore the ecosystem, and provide hope for similar areas in the nation’s capital as well.
As for the documentary, Aditya hopes that it will trigger some interest in the largely unexplored area of science film-making. Tewatia anticipates a spike in conservation efforts. Suyesh’s reasons for filming frogs are more personal: “I love frogs, and if I get a chance to be a part of a conversation about them and their protection, I’ll take it,” he says.
Binit Priyaranjan is a Delhi-based writer