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Coming soon: baby iguana vs racer snakes

The Indian premiere of the BBC's exalted Planet Earth II series marks the arrival of a new factual entertainment channel

A still from Episode 5 of The Hunt in which a lioness in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, stands protectively over her cubs. Photo: Ellen Husain/Silverback
A still from Episode 5 of The Hunt in which a lioness in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, stands protectively over her cubs. Photo: Ellen Husain/Silverback

Did the baby marine iguana manage to escape the racer snakes?

That is the question that trouble those people who watched the trailers and previews of Planet Earth II, BBC’s seven-part nature documentary series, on the channel’s website or on YouTube. The Iguana vs Snakes chase sequence from the first episode of the series, Islands, filmed in the Galápagos is so intensely gripping that even the episode’s producer, Elizabeth White, found it to be “something from a horror film", she writes on the show’s website. “I spent half the shoot with my hands in front of my eyes willing the poor hatchlings to escape!"

Numbers speak for a television series that is considered by some as better than the best Game Of Thrones could offer: natural life captured in unprecedented, exhilarating and intimate detail. The Planet Earth II series was filmed in 40 countries using 42 camera operators shooting in ultra high-definition 4K, and has 400 terabytes of footage (about 82,000 DVDs), which is worth every minute of edge-of-the-couch viewing.

In the UK, about 30 million people have viewed the series, while close to one billion have watched the baby iguana chase sequence on YouTube, says Saurabh Yagnik, executive vice-president and business head, English entertainment cluster, Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India.

On 1 March, the SPN, in collaboration with BBC Worldwide, launched Sony BBC Earth in India; the channel is expected to go live on 6 March. And the episodes of the Planet Earth II series, which was released in the UK last year, will be aired here from 17 April on Sony BBC Earth, says Yagnik.

The new channel will tap into the BBC’s catalogue of documentaries running into 2,600 hours. “At any given point and as we speak," says Yagnik over the phone, “there are an average of 26 BBC filming crews across the world, adding to the catalogue and making the BBC the biggest creator of natural history content."

If Planet Earth II, presented by the inimitable David Attenborough, is likely to be the showpiece, there will not be any dearth of good shows, like The Hunt, Where The Wild Men Are, and Trust Me, I’m A Doctor.

A preview of The Hunt, which chronicles in graphic detail the strategies employed by predators to capture their prey, comes packed with the thrill of the chase. At the very beginning, Attenborough makes it clear that the hunter often fails. One can’t but commiserate with the canny leopard, sneaking up a trench to get close to an impala, when it fails to get its prey. An expert at stealth, the leopard is followed closely by the camera, but the predator is outwitted by the impala’s superior faculties of smell. When the leopard finally pins one down, the impala makes a miraculous escape, the shot coming as a breathtaking climax to heady wildlife film-making.

The same episode has another nerve-racking chase sequence between wild dogs, who hunt in packs, and grazing wildebeest in Zambia.

The Hunt, much like Planet Earth II, has vivid camerawork, stunning visuals, slick editing, a throbbing background score and a narrative that seemingly resembles the fight between good and evil. It makes life in the wild both relatable and accessible.

Previews of Where The Wild Men Are and Trust Me, I’m A Doctor are representative of the human component of Sony BBC Earth’s programming. In the former, adventurer Ben Fogle charts the route of human escapism through people who shy away from the fiercely competitive, modern urban existence. Trust Me, I’m A Doctor focuses on the contemporary urban lifestyle, charting through our litany of lifestyle disorders and ailments. Can a fat person be fit as well? Is antimicrobial hand foam an effective guard against invisible germs? These questions may seem less attractive visually than how crocodiles await their annual meal, but they are very pertinent to our times.

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