The cheerful dog Brownie in Anjali Menon’s Koode, the lovable retriever Naughty in Bangalore days, the cat that roams around when Faizi is trying to make paratha in Ustad Hotel, have stolen our hearts, sometimes more than the characters. Placing an animal into a story and attributing a character to it, is never easy. Firstly, we are familiar with the myth that animals are alert to sense any interference, invisible to the naked human eye. They can sense danger or anything about to happen in the near future. Writers make use of this myth to give us moments of love.
Our protagonists started having pets only towards the end of 90s. Until then, we cannot find animals, especially dogs and cats, as characters in our films. As a sequel to this observation, we might as well suggest that it was with the advent of 2000s, that the common man’s life became reflected on screen. Until then, the hero was chivalric, saving the heroine from a group of twenty hooligans with guns, singlehandedly, without any weapons. It was only later that cinema became more close to reality.
Coming back to Koode, towards the climax, both Josh and the pet dog brownie is distressed. Later when a child is born for Josh, both of them hear the whistle that they heard initially when Josh and Brownie first saw Jenny (who is already dead, but is an imagination of the brother and her dog). Our sympathies are more for Brownie than for a sister-bereaved Josh. The scene where Naughty sees Shiva (after Natasha’s death), and hugs him, standing on his hind legs, have made us cry more than the climax where Aju wins the bike race. The difference is in the treatment of the pet character, and how it is placed perfectly into the family frame, like the hero’s cousin, sister, and other close family. The difference is also in the mindset of the audience.
Earlier, very less number of families kept pets, and those who did, kept them caged, away, outside the home. Today, we sleep with our dogs on our bed, and love them like our own sibling. Indian cinema saw this shift in portraying pets since the time we started sleeping with our dogs and cats. Hollywood was always obsessed with this pet culture, as we can see nine out of ten people taking their pets out for a stroll, on the streets of the ‘Americas’. We have seen films like Marley and Me which outlines the beautiful relationship shared by Marley (a chirpy retriever) and his friend.
Thereby we can conclude that the minor and major changes in the region, culture and stories of Indian Cinema, is to a great extent, influenced by the changing realities of the group who occupy the cinema theatres. Many of us may deny when I say cinema is a reflection of human emotions and life. However, this stays true since times immemorial.