777 Charlie, the latest pan-India offering from Kannada cinema, is the story of unlikely companions. Throughout the story, writer Kiranraj K (also the director) enunciates this in the form of pairings that are odd and ill-fitted at first but find tender resolutions later. Dharma (Rakshit Shetty), the perennially angry, unpleasant protagonist of this story, is the common feature of most, in fact all, of these pairings and in a strange yet endearing way, the film’s gaze remains on him throughout despite him not being the hero, so to speak. Sure, he lands a few crunchy punches along the way, nests a “manly” workshop in his garage, and climbs the tallest mountains for the sake of love. But he still isn’t your run-of-the-mill hero.
And yet, Dharma’s feats to reach his goal are nothing short of heroic. Kiranraj’s take on his protagonist is modern and earnest, and he makes no qualms about showcasing the vulnerability and a deep inner void that the real hero of the film is required to fill. While 777 Charlie isn’t the most novel attempt at this sub-genre, the film is extremely honest about wanting to share a story about the impact an animal, or any non-human form, could have on human life, and the idiosyncratic nature of these relationships.
In Dharma’s case, the messiah of his life comes in the form of a female baby Labrador, spunky and so eager to forge a bond with him that despite valiant attempts not to, he is compelled to take her in as his new companion. But the film is a subversion, essentially, of the usual tropes and it is Dharma, the human, who embarks on a journey to fulfil his pet pal’s unexpressed wish of playing in real snow. In a sense, Kiranraj’s 777 Charlie is an unintended but sweet nod to the same optimistic zest of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, except that Dharma’s counterpart in the 1971 film never gets a chance to fulfil desires by plunging into intense road trips.
That’s how the film’s metaphorical journey becomes a literal one with the duo encountering a most vibrant set of individuals and challenges along the way. The lead-up to this part makes up the film’s first half which mostly breezes past as a long sequence of montages, albeit efficiently carrying the message. Dharma’s rather rugged demeanour is washed away by Charlie’s rigour and charm through a series of testing yet enjoyable events, and it is soon established that this seemingly symbiotic relationship is actually the last chance for him to revive himself. Just as in the case of Dharmaraya and his dog friend in the epic Mahabharata, Dharma and Charlie’s journey to the heavens (Kashmir in this case) comprises many “falls” or cutbacks (like running out of money or travel means). But they tread on nevertheless, guided by Dharma’s incessant passion to see Charlie roll merrily in pristine snow.
The character arc is apparent along the length of the road trip but the problem arises when the script throws up these challenges in the form of casual contrivances that are never testing enough of the underlying catharsis of the main character. In an attempt to make things more endearing and emotionally charged, the film then progressively becomes predictable and redundant, and the much-awaited glorious climax, unfortunately, isn’t the expected punch in the heart. Some might even find the supposed “closure” a tad baffling and unwarranted, but in a way it also matches the heightened tone of the film.
That said, 777 Charlie suffers from director Kiranraj’s undefined style and the lack of any significant drama to drive the human story. The debutant drops many subtle hints as to his main inspirations for visual storytelling – from the baby Lab initially carrying a name tag reading “Keaton” to Dharma’s wall bearing a huge Charlie Chaplin face made out of mechanical parts, and to the dog eventually being christened Charlie – but his approach is short of the same darkness, depth, or precision. Dogs, in general, are known to be natural scene-stealers and the film’s sole focus for the majority of the runtime remains on Charlie and his many antics, as though it were all just an announcement of all the efforts that went into training the dog. The writing never allows these little moments of spunk to develop into something more profound and soothing or the narrative to carry a subtextual element – instead, Nobin Paul’s eclectic background score is employed as an overindulgent (and manipulative) tool that does the job of explaining what and how much Dharma and Charlie mean to each other. The film does not shy away from being a tad dramatic during key moments, but without any rhythm the scenes of poignance seem to come rather too late. It is this overbearingness that stops Dharma’s inward journey from feeling truly cathartic.
Yet, one is sure to walk out of the cinema hall feeling softened and lighter because the film has its heart in the right place. Despite its shortcomings, 777 Charlie presents a strong case about the life-changing capabilities of pets, especially dogs, and how their unconditional love has helped many wade through the harshest of times. In the same vein, and perhaps as its biggest strength, the film allows the viewer to experience through Dharma the fierce emotional blow of losing a pet, as it simmers slowly up to the point of the expected sombre climax.
Arvind S Kashyap’s cinematography renders a unique but picturesque world to the story and the climax portions on the snow-capped peaks of Kashmir are particularly captivating. Although the runtime inches close to 3 hours, Pratheek Shetty’s editing infuses energy into the film, and despite the ebb and flow in the narrative, the pacing is smooth throughout. However, the two main contributors to the film are composer Nobin Paul and dog trainer Pramod – the former, as stated already, does all the heavy lifting and delivers a memorable soundtrack that includes four songs and a dynamic background score. The latter, on the other hand, makes Charlie, the pup, the soul of the film. As revealed by Kiranraj, the team spent a lot of time and energy on achieving the perfect pitch for all the dog sequences, and the training comprised as many as 250 different little actions on the dog’s part.
Raj B Shetty and Baby Sharvari shine in their small but crucial parts with the former providing the comic relief with his quintessential Mangaluru candour, and the latter, in her very first outing, making her presence felt strongly. Sangeetha Sringeri, as the sincere animal welfare executive, is let down by some hackneyed writing that almost threatens to derail the narrative. Bobby Simha, making his debut in Kannada, comes at an important point in the story and albeit the small role, it proves significant to the bigger cause of the film. But it’s the film’s lead, Rakshit Shetty, who embodies the ethos of the film through his assured performance. Be it as the blunt Dharma of the first half or the reformed version of the second, he carries the film on his shoulders and makes his on-screen relationship with Charlie feel worthy of the audience’s empathy. Watch the film to enjoy this delightful chemistry between Dharma and Charlie as they set off on a cross-country ride filled with quirks and oodles of love.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.