Charlie 777 shows how films on dogs can be made with both heart and responsibility
For a person with an animal welfare perspective, seeing the nuances around the new prevention of cruelty to animals rules, breeding, and adoption in the film was very heartening.)
Sometimes I wonder where a pet badge, a pet licensing program we had done long back and a film about a man and a dog all come together. It does in Charlie 7. This is one of the most beautiful, gritty, simple tales of the love that passeth all understanding, a love that happens despite yourself, not because of yourself, and it’s a tale that is not only well told but well researched . It drills down into the newer woke realities of Animal Welfare that cover adoption, the casual crime of illegal breeding and even resultant tragic genetic disease . None of us will look at a spade with the same eyes again. I cheered our hero in that scene. When you see the film you will know why.
But it’s also a tale of falling in love , it’s a tale of slow yet abrupt awakening . As a person who has made this journey of love 22 years ago with my little girl, CJ, I feel every heartbeat, I resonate with every milestone and as I watched a strong but defenceless man start to crumble against a love that is so epic, so basic and so relentless, I could only smile at Dharma’s inexorable, inevitable downfall . The smile tugs a little to the side, because we all know how the sweetest of stories sometimes end. I can talk about snow and melting ice cream, I can talk about an unemotional man, mixed up residential colony, a wide-eyed little girl, a bike sidecar, a dog with more personality than we have been prepared to protect ourselves from. There are daily stories of cigarette ends, alarm clocks and ashy reality that eventually transform to a magical existence. .
We can relate to Dharma and Charlie’s journey that has to be made across the plains and hills of the country as well as those that ranges, treacherous as they may be, in the undulating ghats of the heart. From a person with an animal welfare perspective listening to the nuances and sensitivity of both the understanding of the new prevention of cruelty to animals rules, focus on breeding and eventually adoption , the pathways of caring, the informal structure around cruelty prevention that is slowly building up around dogs is very heartening. I can say this that I never expected that this level of sensitivity would be shown by a filmmaker on the gentler nuances of the pet and companion animal space.
This is a film that started well before Covid. I had no idea what this film was - but when the research team kept calling me on whether a license number could be three digits, what it looked like, how are pet licensing camp was conducted, was there a pet licensing number called 777.. And they even wanted to come to the Cubbon Dog park to see how the pet registrations were conducted by the city corporation - I directed to them to all the photographs and videos of our previous pet licensing programs on our Facebook page. I had to get them a picture of CJ’s pet license badge of 20 years ago to show how a badge looked. Now I know why. It was 5 years after she died and I set up CJ Memorial Trust in her name, but looking at that etched oval of brass with its tacky orange ribbon, brought all the grief back.
I requested them to use an Indie Dog for the film and they said they would try . And a few months later when they call for another input I reminded him and he said it’s difficult because it’s very hard to get an identical double for an indie whereas with a Lab it was that much easier. Four Labs were used for the film two young ones and two adults . I still requested him to keep the focus on adopt don’t shop- because I have seen the complete rush of PUG mad parents after the Hutch puppy ads and we have all seen how the poor bracyphalic breed has been hunted down and imported, abandoned, bred and discarded - I did not want to have the same thing happening with our already overbred Labradors.
Then Covid happened and two years passed - I had forgotten about this film. Then I heard that the movie was restarting and the teasers was up. I was so worried that there would be no caveat on Labs and breeding/buying. If there was no information on the rules, this could cause another Labrador purchase rush. I had no idea of the story except it was about a man and his dog while I kept requesting them to keep this welfare issue in priority . We spoke a few times and perhaps because of the tightness of the script, they didn’t mention how they were approaching this issue. So as part of the SPCA we actually wrote a letter to them requesting for three specific messages to be sent out to all viewing to ensure that there was a focus on not buying labs, on #adoptdontshop, promoting Indie Dogs and helping people understand that it is wrong to buy from illegal breeders . In hindsight, I’m glad that letter to SPCA went out as a matter of form, as a matter of process and as a matter of focus on how pictures on animals will be made in the country from now onwards. But I can tell you that I had no reason to fear as the movie has handled the whole issue with love, empathy & sensitivity without going overboard on sentimentality . While the last few lines of caveats/ messages should be larger in font, I am glad that it was shown with a practical ending on what is needed on the ground. For that, the team's openness to be guided by welfare experts like Sudha Narayanan of CARE, must be lauded. Her inputs on the . realities of true animal care and pets today , shine through as I later realised . The gritty welfare perspective is thanks to her and the CARE Team , but presented with a light touch and almost in passing -so it does not get preachy..
There are only a couple of disconnects - the dog show, references to Animal Welfare Board and the possible pups, but these are minor. Charlie Chaplin, the factory floor and breathtaking road trips across the length of India are the setting for a wonderful actor who except for a couple of scenes of deep emotion, has played his part with such restraint , surliness and sensitivity. And for the dog who’s deep black pool eyes just loved him and loved it until he drowned, I have no words. Oscar time, Charlie .
I have to confess I didn’t watch Marley & Me, but I can say that Charlie 777 is a movie that is a journey and a coming of age for Indian cinema. I’m proud of my state and my country has made this film and I’m proud of a oeuvre that has reminded us not just what love we can have but how full heartedly and how responsibly we should have it.