Shekar Dattatri is a pioneer of wildlife and conservation filmmaking in India, having started his filmmaking journey in 1983 as 'Assistant Director' on 'Snakebite', a dramatised documentary. His meticulously crafted 'blue chip' natural history films have entertained, inspired and informed people around the world, while his hard hitting conservation films have helped bring about tangible change in India.
Shekar’s lifelong fascination with wildlife began at the age of 10, when he discovered natural history literature. In 1976, aged 13, he joined the famous Madras Snake Park as a student-volunteer and pursued herpetology for the next nine years, becoming adept not only at handling snakes, but also at caring for and breeding them in captivity. Frequent snake hunting trips with members of the Irula tribe in the scrublands and crop fields outside Chennai city inculcated in him a deep admiration for traditional forms of knowledge. In 1982, he assisted Snake Park founder and director, Romulus Whitaker, in setting up a cooperative society for Irula snake catchers to enable them to make a living by legally catching snakes for their venom rather than by illegally killing them for their skins. Already well versed in photography, he was able to make a smooth transition to documentary filmmaking when the opportunity arose. His first film, ‘A Cooperative for Snake Catchers’, won a National Award in 1987 for Best Scientific Film. His next two documentaries, 'Seeds of Hope', and 'Silent Valley - An Indian Rainforest' were also National Award-winners.
‘Silent Valley', completed in 1991, was the first full length natural history film ever made on the wet evergreen shola forest ecosystem of the Western Ghats. It also won several international awards, including a Special Jury Award at the first Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in America, a top honor at the Sondrio International Film Festival on Parks and Protected Areas, and Best Nature Film Award at the Tokyo Earthvision Festival. In 1991, thanks to an Inlaks Scholarship, he was able to spend eight months working with Oxford Scientific Films in the UK, which, at the time, was one the most innovative producers of natural history and science programmes for television. This stint, as well as his track record and haul of awards, helped him gain a foothold in the exclusive club of international natural history filmmakers.
Subsequently, Shekar worked with some of the world’s leading natural history broadcasters and production houses, including Channel 4, UK, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, the BBC Natural History Unit, Natural History New Zealand and Icon Films. Some of his films as a cameraman and/or Producer include, The 'Wild India' series (Channel 4, UK; freelance wildlife cameraman), ‘The Good Snake’ (National Geographic Television, Producer and Cameraman), ‘Nagarahole – Tales from An Indian Jungle’ (Discovery Channel; Producer, cameraman and writer), 'Land of the Tiger' (A BBC NHU series; freelance cameraman on four episodes) and ‘Monsoon – India’s God of Life’ (Part of the 'Wild Asia' Series by Discovery, NHK and NHNZ; Producer and cameraman).
He has also had the honour of serving on the final juries of several prestigious wildlife and environmental film festivals, including, the Japan Wildlife Film Festival (2007 edition), the Sondrio Film Festival on Parks and Protected Areas, Italy (2008 edition), Wildscreen, UK (2008 and 2020 editions), and the Vatavaran Wildlife and Environment Film Festival, India. Wildlife photo competition juries he has officiated on include the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Photography Awards (several editions), Nature in Focus and Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2020, which is the longest running and largest wildlife photography competition in the world, conducted by the Natural History Museum in London.
In 1998, Shekar was rated as one of the top ten rising stars of wildlife filmmaking in the world by the UK trade magazine, Television Business International. However, despite being at the peak of his international career, he decided to shift focus from making pretty films for television to making hard-hitting conservation and advocacy films. Since 2000, Shekar has been using his skills as a Producer, Director, Cameraman and Writer to make films that aim to bring about tangible change. One of these, ‘Mindless Mining – The Tragedy of Kudremukh’ (2001), played a pivotal role in putting an end to a vast and extremely damaging open cast iron-ore mining operation within a rainforest National Park in India's Western Ghats.
In 2004 he won a Rolex Award for Enterprise, from Rolex of Geneva, for his work in conservation filmmaking, and in 2008, the Edberg Award, conferred by the Rolf Edberg Foundation in Sweden. From 2007 to 2010 he was a Member of the National Board for Wildlife, a high level advisory body to the Government of India, and, subsequently, a Member of the State Board for Wildlife in his home state of Tamil Nadu. He is the co-founder of Conservation India, India's most authoritative conservation portal.
Besides filmmaking, Shekar also writes popular articles on wildlife, conservation and filmmaking. He is the author of three children’s books, ‘The Riddle of the Ridley’, ‘Lai Lai the Baby Elephant’ and ‘Ira the Little Dolphin’. He is a sought after speaker on matters relating to conservation and filmmaking, and has taught at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, in the capacity of visiting faculty. He has guest lectured at various institutions, including the Wildlife Institute of India, and the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy.
He lives in Chennai, south India, and can be contacted through email.