Kolkata: India’s only entry this year at the Panda Awards, Sirocco–How A Dud Became A Stud, won the Icon Film Newcomer Award in Bristol. Directed by Ashwika Kapur, 27, the documentary is about a New Zealand parrot who is the official spokesbird for conservation.

Sirocco beat competition from the US film Pride and the UK film We Are Rhino. Wildlife filmmaker Mike Pandey is among the few Indians who have won this award, also known as the Green Oscar, in the past.

“Symbolically, this award is important as it’s the highest accolade in the industry. But I didn’t make Sirocco expecting any awards," Kapur said after her victory from Bristol, where she collected the award on Thursday in the presence of David Attenborough. “I was simply doing my best, and that’s always going to be my attitude towards my work: to always give it my best shot. The rest will follow."

Kapur’s interest in animals and birds started when she brought home a duckling when she was four. “My unsuspecting parents didn’t realize that the little duckling I brought home would be the beginning of a mini menagerie in their 12th-floor apartment. That’s how I fell in love with animals," said Kapur, who studied wildlife filmmaking at University of Otago in New Zealand. “A few years later, I became a child actor in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and I acted in several commercials and TV shows. And that’s how I fell in love with films. Post-college, when it was time to decide upon a career, I followed my heart, put my two loves together and declared that I was going to be a wildlife filmmaker."

Kapur made her film on Sirocco, a kakapo (night parrot in the Maori language), as her university project on a shoestring budget of just £500 (around 49,350 today) last year.

“As a filmmaker, I believe that natural history documentaries should both educate and entertain. So, when I was researching story ideas for my graduation film, I was looking for a subject that would strike that balance," she said. “While researching kakapo, I came across Sirocco, a bird that incidentally happened to think he was a human being. Sirocco was an absolute character. So I chose to tell his life story in the form of a rags-to-riches tale through which audiences learn about this very unique species at large."

Kakapos are a flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling species of parrot in New Zealand that are critically endangered.

There are less than 150 of these birds surviving in the wild, according to information available on the Kakapo Recovery Programme’s website.

In a male-dominated field, Kapur is holding her own and enjoying the challenges wildlife filmmaking throws at her.

“It takes years to make your bones in the industry. You have to make your peace with being in all sorts of dangerous situations, permissions to film in national parks are a nightmare, and the competition is fierce, even though there are only a small number of people pursuing it full time. The only way to get ahead is to let your work talk for itself. And for that you need skill and determination," she said. “The payoff is the things you experience in the wild. You get to see the most amazing places, travel the world and film the most incredible animals out there. You get to climb trees and sleep under stars, you get to drink from mountain rivers and capture all that magic on your camera to share with the world. The upsides outweigh all the countless challenges."

Kapur is currently involved in the filming and production of two wildlife shows in India for Animal Planet. She also conducts workshops for students and parents where she uses her experience in wildlife filmmaking to create awareness that there are career options outside the standard box, and though these are challenging, they can be extremely fulfilling.

Kapur wants to be able to continue to tell incredible animal stories from around the world and keep reminding people what a weird yet wonderful world we live in.

“Kapur is a hard-working and earnest wildlife filmmaker and photographer," said Bangalore-based conservationist Gerry Martin. “Her winning this award at such a young age is great news for wildlife photographers and conservationists in India."

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