Director: Khawar Jamsheed
Cast: Bruno, Juliet
Life’s greatest challenge is being an incurable dog lover who moonlights as a film critic and then being faced with – of course – a short film about dogs. Analysis? I think not. And not just a short, but a love story, an actual stripped-to-bones, against-all-odds, bestially passionate (pardon the puns, only this time) and primal love story, which in dog parlance amounts to an obscene amount of intimate butt sniffing that not even Pahlaj Nihalani can have the heart to censor.
Classic poor-boy-rich-girl and inter-caste cinematic templates are, for all means and purposes, direct descendants of the primitive stray-mutt-pure-breed equation – something I’m ashamed to never have recognized in all my years of snout kissing and metaphor finding. Perhaps because I’m what they call a “human”: the natural villain and disruptor in the universe of needy, lovelorn canines. Though I’d like to think I’m a good baddie; I belong less to the Cruella De-Vil category, and more to the Beethoven-household kingdom. That said, if humankind were suddenly ruled by an “intellectually superior” race of aliens, all these categories and boundaries would just disappear, and we’d just be happy to make genetically similar friends.
But there’s something culturally significant about this (North Indian) setting – for instance, a First-World country with zero strays and clean streets would never be able to harbour a “masala” film like Bruno and Juliet. This is the archetypical hinterland of dog environments.
I’d say this is an Indian film (presented by who else but Imtiaz Ali), but it’s not like the dogs bark in Hindi. The language remains theirs, so much so that we never actually hear what the annoying humans are saying. Their voices are thankfully drowned out by (parlour-like) music. It is however live-action – a logistic rarity in these days of CG development and “life like” children’s adventures – and set in an unnamed Indian locality.
The dogs are real, in the sense that there seems to be no training or choreography involved, which makes director Khawar Jamsheed’s achievement all the more trickier and, I suspect, significant. I’d like to believe no dogs were harmed, but that’s rarely the case when humans are involved. It’s a grey area – more so, if dogs are being used as the primary medium. The camera can’t simply be on them as if it were a docudrama; there’s a little posturing and triggering involved, too, and I’m not sure how I feel about that (especially a dog-catcher scene) in context of noble creative liberty.
But there’s something culturally significant about this (North Indian) setting – for instance, a First-World country with zero strays and clean streets would never be able to harbour a “masala” film like Bruno and Juliet. This is the archetypical hinterland of dog environments. Which is why this Shakespearean title would’ve been more suited to that world, too, given that the storytelling in those regions would have to be reduced to warring households united by love blossoming between their delicate pedigreed pooches. There’s more character and rawness to a stray in a city – a beast in an urban jungle, gangsters of their own accord, adaptors par excellence, a doggie Jurassic Park of sorts.
I’ve always wondered why I have always empathized with stray dogs more than, say, hapless humans. Is it because they’re inherent underdogs? Poor? Abandoned? Orphans? Pariahs? Survivors? Fighters? Take-no-prisoner lovers? Protectors? Kings of their own turf? Maybe a bit of everything. In short, they are what movies and literature and most forms of art are built upon. They are the only real stories out there. Follow one of them for a year and you’ll see where every word ever written comes from.
So when Juliet, a scruffy white stray, pursues the neighbourhood St. Bernard, Bruno, much to the chagrin of Bruno’s owner, one doesn’t have to worry about human-created social undertones like stalking, jealousy and manipulation. It’s pure and consensual, and there seems to be a kind of possessiveness on both sides – notice Juliet clearing Bruno’s path every morning by intimidating the other strays, and notice Bruno manhandling his man to keep an eye on Juliet – that is at once disarming and humbling. The terms are still theirs: the spring in their steps, the carefree sprinting, the non-malicious rebelling and simultaneous loyalty to their stubborn humans. It’s why and how we hope to love, too, without expectations and strings, determined to be satiated with a few stolen moments everyday.
At times like these, in this age, “beasts” are in fact aspirational and higher beings of evolution – simplistic levels we subconsciously wish to emulate in order to un-complicate the clutter of our self-created climate. Dog and cat videos were never so popular only because we see in them a kind of innocence long lost at the altar of desperate civilization. Films like these, though rightfully bestowed with grounded adjectives like “cute” and “adorable” instead of “poignant” and “timeless,” are a furry reminder of how we started out, and who we’ve failed to become.
Watch Bruno And Juliet here: