Earning his stripes

By Fiona Fernandez

Teenager Hamir Thapar's recent YouTube video about a unique mating encounter between two tigers in Ranthambore is drawing praise from all quarters, including dad, ace conservationist Valmik Thapar

Sometimes during the second half of the nearly 13-minute-long documentary, the male tiger glares back into the camera after an aggressive mating dance with the female. For a second, we freeze too despite watching this video within the safe confines of our suburban home. It is dramatic footage of two royal Bengal tigers tease, engage and arouse each other at a muddy water body in Ranthambore. The bristling of dry leaves and swaying of branches from a stiff breeze is the only soundtrack on that summery day in June 2018. Hamir, accompanied by his father, Valmik Thapar, noted wildlife conservationist and author, had spent five hours in the heart of Rajasthan's famous national park to capture this wild encounter.

Son rise
"That was the moment when I felt fear as we drove up to them. The male snarled back at us," says the YouTube video filmmaker, while recalling the same frame that had us recoil; except that his narrative is filled with excitement. Hamir posted this video, titled Ranthambore's tigers: The Mating Games, a couple of weeks ago, and it has already received rave reviews.

For the 16-year-old high school student from Delhi, these videos were a natural corollary to his
father's work that resulted in him travelling across Africa and India's jungles. "I started
making rough cuts when I was 11 after my parents and I took a trip to Kenya," he tells us over the phone. "With time, I realised that this was something I enjoyed; it became an extension of myself. By the time

 

I was 14, I started to post them online. It was an incredible feeling. The feedback for my first attempt [on Serengeti's leopards] was positive, and it spurred me to take it forward," he shares, adding that he made 10 videos from that one family trip in the jungles of Africa.

Speaking of family, the role played by his illustrious parents was inevitable. "They've been amazing — mum [theatre personality Sanjna Kapoor] is always supportive, and dad is my biggest driving force. He helps me a lot with the editing. Both are extremely proud of this new video," he says. "He had put together two books on African wildlife as a nine-year-old. His earlier YouTube film on a lioness in the Serengeti has seen nearly 8 lakh views and will soon touch a million," shares Thapar senior, of his son's early initiation into wildlife. Kapoor chips in, "Hamir has been doing this for years. He loves the process, and soaks in the sights and sounds of the jungle."

Rare and wild
Those virtues come to the fore as Hamir recaps that day. "We were driving through the jungle, and were aware of a tigress [T95] in the area. To our complete surprise, a male [T83] showed up. We decided to film their movements. You cannot plan these things because nothing is predictable in the wild," reminds Hamir, adding the risk involved. "It was a challenge. Lions and tigers mate at 15-minute intervals. On that day, we waited for five hours, and filmed them mating on 12 occasions. Even dad says that he had never seen anything like this before." Thapar reiterates its relevance, "It was the first time in 43 years that I saw mating tigers at such close quarters. His film is a unique record of some exceptional behaviour."

Interestingly, Hamir, also creates videos of cars for his channel. "I love cars. It's my passion but this [wildlife films] is more of a challenge." Hamir's videos exhibit a raw, realistic documentation unlike the ones aired on wildlife TV channels, "It has been appreciated for the lack of any background score or voiceover. I make it, as it should be," he shares.

What wild encounter can we next expect from his camera? "I've made a video on a cheetah kill from a Kenyan safari… but I am not giving away any more," is the teasing reply from the young filmmaker named after the Rajput king who built Ranthambore.

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