Kolkata: Recall the 1995 print ad in which models Madhu Sapre and Milind Soman posed nude, wearing only shoes and a python wrapped around them? The controversial ad led to Mumbai police slapping an obscenity case and the duo being booked under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Barely 10 then, Aniruddha Sen had been impressed by the ad, not for its nudity or the snake in isolation, but the aesthetics of the two combined. Two decades later, Sen — now a full-time software engineer and part-time photographer — tried to recreate the magic with a snake and a model. However, he ended up getting booked by the forest department for the same violation.
“The photographer used live snakes on a nude model and uploaded the shots on Facebook. According to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, manhandling wild animals and using them for commercial purpose is prohibited. We have initiated proceedings against him,” said chief wildlife warden Pradeep Vyas.
This is the first time that the Bengal forest department has booked a photographer for such an offence. Apart from Sen, his assistant, model Piya and the make-up artist have also been charged with the violation.
Sen, who arranged for the reptiles from a snake charmer through a friend and shot the sequence in January, is stung by the developments. “I had no idea that there is a law prohibiting photography of animals with humans. I had been inspired by the Madhu-Milind ad and created my own. I was very young then and didn’t look beyond photography to read about the violations they had been charged with. I have been questioned thrice and repeatedly told forest officials that what I have done in a mistake and not a crime. It will be sad if they continue to treat me like a petty criminal,” he rued.
DFO Sarajit Mukherjee, though, is in no mood to relent. Pointing out that ignorance of law did not give one the privilege to violate it, Mukherjee said Sen was given an opportunity to apologize publicly and spread the message of conservation in exchange of leniency but had forfeited the chance by not taking the message seriously.
“The prosecution offence report has been submitted. We will pursue the matter. Let the court decide,” Mukherjee said.
If convicted, Sen faces a maximum jail term of three years or a fine of Rs 25,000, or both. Sen, who is under pressure for failing to meet software client commitments due to summons by the forest department, said he had seen scores of photographs that had models and wild animals on the web but not read anything about the harassment it could cause.
“It is my bad luck that I posted the photographs on Facebook and they were spotted by the forest department. I keep my personal life, photography and professional life separate but they are threatening to merge and throw my life out of gear,” he remarked.
Vyas reasoned the photographs would encourage others to do similar things, leading to widespread violation. “A strong message needs to be sent so that people don’t fool around with animals that are listed under the schedules of Wildlife Protection Act,” he added.