After the 2015 fantasy, Urumeen, director Sakthivel Perumalsamy wanted to do something different, and that’s when the idea of doing one about dogs struck him. “People poison and kill dogs; it’s an open secret in states like Kerala. In fact, I’ve heard of people getting offered incentives to do so,” he says. The director can’t believe that associations have been formed to train children to kill stray dogs. “It’s barbaric and appalling.”
Sakthivel calls his upcoming untitled project, ‘India’s first dog adventure film’. He has been writing the script for quite some time. The story is about the life of a stray, which escapes into the jungle. “Four boys meet a dog that has survived against all odds. The film focusses on the relationship between a dog and humans in the forest space,” he tells us.
The director is optimistic about the success of films based on animals. “Even a seasoned producer like Rama Narayanan was cashing in on such films. Starting from the Sridevi-starrer Nagin to the recent Naaigal Jaakirathai, these films have always done well,” he says. “This film will show that the lives of dogs can be as dramatic as ours.”
The dog in this film is a mongrel, who is “friendly, loyal, intelligent and independent with his own thoughts, and feelings.” But Sakthivel doesn’t want to reveal the dog’s name. “He has a great story of his own. The boys in the film treat him as an equal. By nature, dogs are wild animals, but we have domesticated them. They can be great healers. Most films show dogs exposing crimes, but my film will show how they live in the wild. It will be a transformative experience for the audience.”
The filmmaker says he’s been fascinated by dogs ever since he was a boy. “I don’t have a pet now because I live in an apartment. But growing up, I knew dogs that were wonderfully feisty, gentle and playful. I’ve always felt a sense of peace around them,” he smiles.
The team is waiting for the strike to get over, in order to begin shooting. Sakthivel is planning to shoot the film in and around the forests of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Africa. “I am looking forward to having an exciting time because I’ll be on foot throughout. The best adventures happen when you expose yourself to the environment around you,” says Sakthivel, who says he’s adept at handling dogs.
“You need to have a proper understanding of how they respond.”Making a dog ‘act’ is no easy task though. “It’s similar to filming a baby. You need a lot of patience or you’ll tear your hair off,” he laughs. But the mongrel that will feature in this film is fantastic, he says. “When I saw him, he was four months. Now, he’s a year old, and stays in Kerala with my friend.”
Sakthivel hopes that films like this make us co-exist better with animals. “How can killing them be a solution? Recently, I saw a video of slain dogs piled on top of each other with their legs tied to a pole in Kerala. When neutering and vaccination programmes exist, what’s the need to kill them?” he questions.
He equates violence against animals with violence against human beings. “Instead of sorting problems between them, people sometimes resort to killing each others’ dogs? In a free country like ours which encourages compassion and empathy, these things make no sense. There’s a lot of politics around these issues,” he rues. “These stories must be told, shared and cherished. We are trying to highlight a problem and some solutions. We don’t pretend to have all the answers though.”
As a parting point, he says, “Many years ago, the dog was thought to be a god (Bhairava). Today, it is referred to as a menace. This change in attitude is frustrating.” He pauses, then adds, “Scripting is just the beginning. The film will need to be approved by the Animal Welfare Board of India. There are lots of procedures involved.” And all that, of course, will have to wait until the present strike gets called off.