Oh My Dog Is A Breath Of Fresh Air Despite Its Shortcomings

The film struggles to identify the genre and has fast-paced narration, but pays attention to the needs of children and most importantly brings back animals on screen
Oh My Dog Is A Breath Of Fresh Air Despite Its Shortcomings

Cast: Arun Vijay, Mahima Nambiar, Vinay Rai, Vijay Kumar, Arnav Vijay

Director: Sarov Shanmugam

At last, a film about animals, And now about a delightful Dog called Simba! Great news!!

The last time I ever saw a film in which a dog had such a huge impact was probably Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994). And suddenly animals seem to have disappeared from our screens. Why? Way back in 1992, a small NGO was founded by the influential Maneka Gandhi called People for Animals. By 1995, she was in the Lok Sabha and she went on a strong campaign to promote the humane treatment of poor animals. Undoubtedly, a very noble and laudable task! 

But in a vast agrarian country like ours where cattle and sheep are the mainstays of all agricultural development, in a country where jungles are being constantly attacked by poachers and the wildlife is always under threat, and in a growing urbanized country where animals are locked inside houses as pets with no freedom at all, how do you expect an organisation like prevention of cruelty to animals every work? 

The answer…Twist the media by its tail; she believed that if the media stopped showing animals being held and enslaved by humans, automatically all animals will be able to live their lives like they ought to in normal natural circumstances. And that was it! Filmmakers had to run from pillar to post in the animal welfare department to get a clearance through a certificate that animals were not harmed in the film. Knowing the haphazard ways in which our films get made, this certification was something that they could all do away with. 

As long as the government does not prohibit the portrayal of harmful and murderous activities on fellow human beings, why would we bother about showing animals on the screen? Let them be where they are, and animals were completely out of the film. 

Therefore the fact that a film has been made around a powerful Siberian husky dog called Simba along with many other dogs showing their trained talents on-screen, is certainly a matter that deserves congratulations. 

Somehow the film is convinced that documenting talented dogs on-screen is a positive reflection of how animal owners have in turn 'disciplined' their pets. So far so good. But when it comes to its presentation as a wholesome well-scripted film, the director Sarov Shanmugham has fallen down far below the expectations. 

The problem lies in identifying the genre for expressing this story. At the outset, it looks like a children's film with adults completely on the periphery. But suddenly it becomes an adult film with complex issues of house evictions and villainous characters scheming out their battles. And at times it looks like a slapstick film with goofy characters playing clowns to the accompaniment of amateurish English songs. Then it also looks like a showreel for a real well-known Tamil film actors' family when you see Grandpa Vijay Kumar; Son Arun Vijay and grandson Arnav Vijay appear together as lead characters.

You wonder if the two well-known older actors were using this film as a training ground for young Arnav to become a superstar in the next few years. The last time we saw this was when T Rajendar introduced his young 11-year-old son Silambarasan in Uravai Kaatha Killi.

Let's look at this film from the POV of an "animal film for children". In the recent past four popular Hollywood films were made based on dogs: A Dog's Purpose (2017); Show Dogs (2018); A Dog's Way Home (2019) and A Dog's Journey (2019).

What is important to notice in these films made largely for children aged 12 to15 is a certain way of developing character arcs which are credible. And the first thing you do is to spend more time on each scene observing characteristics and how they reflect and change the story form. Pay more attention to the real talents of your dog rather than use SFX to bolster the story.

What we notice in Oh My Dog is a narration which is so fast-paced, not providing a single moment to reflect on what is happening. For example, in one scene, we see young Arnav stuff the dog in his school backpack and take a ride with his dad to school. The dad has no clue because the dog is cleverly silent; & so does the entire school, have no clue that he has hidden the dog in class. And it is not a trained dog at that point of time. What happens to the logic here? And then when you end up dubbing the whole film you also end up with constant chatter, not having a moment of no-talk! 

The narration also has the new upcoming villain of Tamil Cinema, Vinay Rai, modelling himself so much on the lines of the late Raghuvaran. He is extremely cruel to his underlings but he dares not treat his dogs badly. Why? Somebody is watching and they are going to knock those scenes out. What does he do other than drive around in fancy cars, wear fancy costumes and electrocute his stupid staff members? He is enjoying his life away in cruelty meted on his poor men. 

And then you have actors like Mahima Nambiar left in the corner with no real identity along with good old Bhanuchandra from yesteryears making a short cameo appearance. Films like these need to show talent in its totality with everybody in the frame. But if you depend on ultra-fast pacing and shoot mostly in close-ups, your film will lose its grip on your viewer. 

Therefore children's film has to be very appealing to children first. Oh My Dog could have certainly done with a more innovative music track. Identifying each character with a musical difference is the key hallmark of a children's film. You will see this in an excellent award-winning Hindi children's film called Chillar Party; the music director really breathes and lives the atmosphere rather than just brushing the keyboard to produce the standard fare one hears in big-budget TV serials.

Yet again, despite all the shortcomings, Oh My Dog is a breath of fresh air paying attention to the needs of children and most importantly bringing back animals on screen and recognizing them as part of our social life. Getting animals to entertain us with their talents on screen is the best way to promote the humane treatment of animals. I hope that Ms Maneka Gandhi treats the film industry with a more humane approach

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