777 Charlie starring Rakshit Shetty and Charlie released last weekend. It narrates an emotional tale of Dharma and his companion. Pramod BC, a professional dog trainer, shares his journey with Charlie from adopting her when she was 55 days old, to training her to perform in the film for four years.
How did you choose the dog to play Charlie? Was the dog yours or did you adopt it for the film?
No, it's actually a big story and the dog was actually adopted. Director Kiranraj K was searching for a Labrador through his friends' circle for the photoshoot of 777 Charlie. One day, he was informed about a dog that was for adoption. She was very mischievous and naughty. She's breaking all the things at home, chewing the slippers and furniture. So the owners decided to give her up for adoption. That's how the director met Charlie. It was a one-day long photoshoot first, and I think probably he fell in love with the dog and he himself adopted the dog from that owner. That's how we got Charlie and that day itself we named him Charlie.
How did you join the 777 Charlie team? Were you already on board or did you come on board only after Charlie was adopted?
So, the script is based purely on a dog and a human. So, in most frames, you see only the dog's performance. Obviously, they would be in search of a trainer. They had actually taken auditions of many trainers from around the country. There was a list of 160 activities the dog would have to perform. The different trainers looked at the activity list and said it is not possible.
I had previously worked in Kavaludaari directed by Hemanth Rao. So he had referred me to Kiranraj and that's how I came into the picture. Even when I saw the list of activities, I had nightmares and couldn't sleep for many days. I wasn't worried about the activities but more about the emotions that were expected. The main challenge was bringing out those emotions in Charlie. So yes, this is how my journey started with Charlie.
So, once she was selected, did you train her scene by scene or is there another method? Can you take us through the training process?
As the script was getting improvised the tasks were also getting bigger and bigger. Initially, it was 150 tasks, but it went on to 300-450 tasks. For the puppy portion, I had only 45 days of training because Charlie was a puppy of 55-days-old and we had to make her act in the movie before he grows bigger. So, in the 45 days, we first taught her the mannerisms which was a very important practice for the dog to learn. For example, if you were to take the dog for a walk, she shouldn't react to any other activities outside, to other people, or to other animals. Now she is around 4 and a half years. With training, Charlie understands Kannada and English.
About the training, I have been certified by International faculties from Germany and the method that we use is called the positive reinforcement method. It's reward-based training in layman's terms. The reward could be anything the dog likes. For instance, I take away the food from the bowl and keep it with me. So, the dog associates me with someone who gives food and it will start trusting and liking me. This method is the reason you can see so much happiness when Charlie is performing. The training and shooting went from 2018 to 2021, so it was close to a four-year journey.
Can you explain this using a particular scene? Even in the trailer, there's a scene that became very popular where Rakshit Shetty asks Charlie, "How much do you love me?" and then Charlie comes and hugs him. So, what kind of training was given and how long did it take for the dog to act in that scene?
We had a list of things. Let's say this hugging sequence was scheduled after two years for Charlie. We weren't waiting for that day to come, we started training from the initial days. So, whatever the hugging sequence you are seeing there it looks very simple and lovable but to make the dog perform and bring that behaviour took a lot of effort. We had trained Charlie for each sequence and we had a lot of workshops done before the shoot itself. It was a year-long process.
So that's how every activity was done in the shoot. The dog works with commands. Let's say, in this hugging scene, 10 commands are equal to 1 behaviour. One command is for the dog to sit, and the next is to sit and watch in one direction. Like that, we had commands for the dog to walk, not too slow or not too fast. Then another command is for the dog to raise its feet and place them on the shoulders of Dharma. The last command is for her to rest her head on the shoulders. It's not so easy, it took three hours to do. So, there were a lot of commands added to that particular task. She was rewarded for every command. We had reinforced like this.
How did you take care of her during the shoot? What was her routine like?
She had been given facilities more than the hero and the heroine. She had a variety of foods and facilities on the set. For example, she had a caravan throughout the film shooting whereas Rakshit sir did not have it. Every time when she comes out for shooting, she wouldn't walk, she would be lifted like a baby and dropped on set. After the performance, again she would be lifted to the caravan.
She had those facilities and food as well. She was our main concern. Her safety was important to us. She had a separate swimming pool where she loved to swim. A pool in the sense, temporarily made for her by the art department. So, she enjoyed the shooting.
You were talking about safety. In the later parts of the film, we can see it was shot in the mountains. During that time, was Charlie able to adjust to the climate? What measures were taken for her to feel comfortable?
A lot of measures were taken. Before that, I would like to clarify that all dogs can naturally adapt to the environment. All you need is time.
In our shoot, for instance, say we have a schedule to shoot in the upcoming month. Twenty days before the shoot, we would go to that spot and stay there for some more time and let her get adapted to that weather phenomenon and temperature. Once she is used to that, we have a small practice session and then she understands that these are the activities she will have to perform at these times. Then we conduct a small workshop for Charlie there. Once it is ready, we'd call the team for the shoot.
Everywhere, we traveled, we would be there at least 10 days before the crew arrives. In Rajasthan, the temperature was about 40 degrees. So, she had a caravan there and once the shoot was done she would go to the caravan and chill.
What's next for Charlie?
No, on the first day we had promised Charlie that this will be your last movie and you will not face any camera after this. We want Charlie to be Charlie that's it. We want her to lead a dog's life henceforth. Rest of her life we don't want her to act in another movie. We are not ready to give her to anybody.
What were some of your favourite pets from other films and did watching such films impact your choice of profession?
I have a love for animals. When it comes to movies, I have seen a lot of Hollywood movies like Marley & Me (2008), Hachi: A dog's tale (2009), and Red Dog (2011). I want people to watch all of these movies. They will go crazy about it.
It is an inspiration. Even after watching 777 Charlie, we got a lot of messages from people. Movies were also inspiring to me but I never had that vision to become a professional dog trainer. The dogs are what made me become a trainer. I used to rescue dogs and that was a passion for me and this passion became a profession. Now, I have around 25 dogs in my school, all rescued or adopted.