Animal films have always appealed to children. Be it Rajinikanth dancing with animals in Raja Chinna Roja or Kamal Haasan having an elephant friend in Ram Lakshman, stars have always remembered this idea. In Amazon Prime Video’s Oh My Dog, directed by Sarov Shanmugam, actor Arun Vijay takes a bit of a departure from such cinema by operating in the background, letting his son, Arnav, be the protagonist, along with a Siberian Husky. It’s a film that brings together three generations of the Vijayakumar family—Vijayakumar, Arun Vijay and Arnav Vijay, and one centred on eight-year-old Arjun’s loving bond with a stray pup named... Simba.
The film apparently came as a pleasant surprise to the Vijayakumar family. “We never planned it and I look at it as god’s blessing,” says Arun, who says that sharing the screen with his son was a life-changing experience. Bringing Arnav to cinema at such a tender age was a decision Arun and his wife Aarthi were sceptical of, initially. “Since I entered the industry at a young age, Aarthi and I were conscious that we shouldn’t let room for any missteps that I went through early on. I wanted Arnav to enter the industry at an older age, but when such a story came up, I couldn’t miss it,” he says. If acting alongside his son was quite an experience, the happiness doubled when Arun’s father, Vijayakumar, joined the party. “I have acted with appa before, but we never knew this would happen. Appa was elated as well. In fact, even on the sets, he was so surprised and proud to see how Arnav was performing.”
Arnav’s performance in the film has come in for some praise. “He was comfortable and fearless. I was conscious that I should let him learn things on his own. I wanted Sarov to capture Arnav’s innocence and so, we let him react naturally without any great planning or influence.”
Arnav’s liking for dogs seems to have helped him too, and the young boy, observant throughout the conversation, agrees. “I like animals in general. When dad narrated this story, I was thrilled because I love puppies and they are sweet animals,” says little Arnav, who goes on to add that his only remuneration for the film was, “Simba!”, the puppy from the film that was gifted to the child actor after the shoot. It is not just the love for animals that seems to have driven Arnav to act, apparently. “Acting is interesting,” he says. “I have been to shoots before and I have seen my dad and grandpa act and that’s how I acquired the interest.”
While the wall between reality and fiction can sometimes get blurry even to great actors, how did an inexperienced child actor like Arnav understand how to distinguish between his on-screen father/grandfather and their off-screen personalities? “He understood that somehow. I think he told himself, ‘Okay, this is cinema and I am playing a character named Arjun’. Kids at this age may not be able to distinguish between the two and we didn’t teach him that either. For instance, he knew that the grandfather character was an angry individual and he reacted accordingly,” shares Arun.
Handling kids for a film is a difficult task, and adding pets to the mix only makes it even more so. “The production team handled things well and kept the kids should be kept in their comfort zones. We had to become kids, in fact, to get them to work.” Patience is the key, adds Arun. “But we loved the process. It was so good to see how excited and calm they were during the entire process. For actors like myself, it was astonishing to see how cheerfully these kids were even when the weather was unimaginably cold,” he adds.
If there’s one big takeaway for Arun from the film, it is the way the father-son relationship was written, he
says. “The things that my character, Shankar, tells his son, Arjun, are things that I believe all fathers should tell their children.” A light-hearted film like Oh My Dog also served as a welcome break for Arun, who has been doing intense macho roles for a while now, post-Yennai Arindhaal. “I wanted a break from such roles. I haven’t had a release in the last two years since Mafia, and even my upcoming films like Borrder, Sinam, Yaanai, and Agni Siragugal are intense. This was a much-needed relief because I had to underplay a lot,” he says. So what’s in store for little Arnav? “As of now, we just want him to focus on his studies,” he adds.