Cast: Rakshit Shetty, Sangeetha Sringeri, Raj B Shetty, Bobby Simha, Danish Sait
Director: Kiranraj K
Every now and then we need a story which will make us believe in love and redemption. A new story, that will assuage our anxieties and alienation, that have become commonplace in a world fraught with unreasonable emphasis on social and material success, and tremendous suspicion and distrust of the other. I am glad to report that the latest movie from the Paramvah Studios – 777 Charlie – written and directed by the debutant Kiranraj K, with Rakshit Shetty and Charlie the dog in the lead, is one such story. It is also the first Kannada movie with a dog in the lead.
Dharma (Rakshit Shetty) works in a vehicle manufacturing factory and, scarred by a personal loss in childhood, leads a lonely life in Mysuru. He has built walls around him and is determined to go through the motions of life with a set routine involving his job, two idlis, alcohol, and cigarettes. But this lifeless existence of Dharma is disturbed by Charlie – a Labrador puppy who has escaped the clutches of an ill-treating breeder (A hark back to the 1992 film Beethoven) and is trying to make a living on the streets. A freak accident to Charlie forces Dharma to take her in and a series of events unfold, including Dharma's failed attempts to give away Charlie in adoption, culminating in him realizing Charlie's unconditional love for him. Charlie's love begins to breathe life into Dharma. Soon, they become an inseparable duo. This short-lived bonhomie hits a new hurdle as Charlie is diagnosed with the fatal Hemangiosarcoma. Realizing that Charlie is short on time, Dharma sets off on a motorcycle journey, with Charlie in tow, across the country to fulfill Charlie's wish of playing with snow. What emerges from this, is an emotional roller coaster ride which is bound to make the audience laugh a little and cry a lot. While there is no doubt that the audience will happily embark on this emotional ride with Dharma and Charlie, some of them might feel this journey is a little too long.
The first half of the movie focuses on building the bond between the two and uses the time-tested tropes of a comical veterinarian with a thick Mangalorean accent (Raj B Shetty), Charlie turning Dharma's life upside down with his naughty adventures, and a cute little neighborhood girl who is in love with the dog, to create entertaining sequences. The mise-en-scene of Dharma's home has several references to Charlie Chaplin's work – at one point "A Dog's Life" is playing on TV and the climax speech of "The Great Dictator" can be heard at another – and other dog films like "101 Dalmatians". Although well written and performed, my experience of the first half was marred by unnecessary attempts – marked by action sequences like editing and sound design – to create sophistication. In contrast, in the road movie like the second half, the technical aspects fall into place but the narrative is adversely affected by the unnecessarily long digressions such as the Devika-Dharma encounter which came across as a half-baked attempt to create a romantic track. The characters of Devika (Sangeetha Sringeri) and Vamsi (Bobby Simha) left much to be desired for.
Halfway through, the second half abruptly attempts to transcend into the spiritual with temples, monasteries, and references to Dharmaraya. In line with this, the climax is set in a small temple dotting the otherwise barren snow-filled landscape and is intended to be the completion of Dharma's journey of redemption.
Rakshit Shetty is brilliant as the rugged and lifeless Dharma in the first half but falls a little short in the emotional sequences – especially the climax scene in the snowy mountains. Raj B Shetty is hilarious – albeit stereotypical – as the Vet. (A special shout-out to his cool shirts featuring dogs). But undoubtedly, the hero of the movie is Charlie; it is impossible to turn away from the screen whenever the camera is on her.
In a welcome departure, the soundtrack of 777 Charlie is multilingual (a hat tip to Nobin Paul) with English, Hindi, and Konkani (Goan folk) songs in addition to Kannada, with artists across India contributing. Also, it is a relief to listen to characters like Bobby Simha, the army officers, and other people Dharma and Charlie meet in their journey, talk in their natural languages. Of course, it does not miss me that the multiple language release of the movie has something to do with these choices.
Now to the most important part – In a rare occurrence in Indian cinema, 777 Charlie is conscious of the issues with pets in India and gets the politics mostly right. The narrative choice of Charlie's disease points to the rampant practice of inbreeding amongst breeders in India; the issue of gated communities and housing colonies prohibiting pets is used to create conflict between Dharma and other residents, and in a fleeting scene where the mother asks her child not to touch Charlie after noticing lesions on his body foregrounds our bias against pets suffering from an illness. But ironically, for a movie which ends with a message flashing across the screen asking people to adopt dogs, Dharma is shown with a just-born puppy – presumably Charlie's (?) – in the climax. Many animal welfare personnel will cringe at the dog show sequence as it is well known that unreasonable enthusiasm for dog shows can adversely impact the lives of our pets. Also, how about featuring some Indian streeties in an Indian movie about dogs, please?
777 Charlie – the first Kannada movie with a dog in the lead – is a feel-good entertainer which will appeal to each and everyone. Important advice to all dog lovers though – do not forget to carry sufficient tissues and handkerchiefs.