K Kiranraj’s directorial debut ‘777 Charlie’, which revolves around the life of Dharma (Rakshit Shetty) and his dog (Charlie), has had a successful run at the box-office after its theatrical release on June 10.

777 Charlie director KiranrajKiranraj
Flix Sandalwood Thursday, July 07, 2022 - 13:21

The name of the dog in the film, the artwork on the wall and scenes playing on the television in the background; 777 Charlie director K Kiranraj pays tribute to Charlie Chaplin, an icon of the silent film era, through many scenes in the recently released hit film starring actor Rakshit Shetty in the lead. The director’s indications about his fascination for visual storytelling does not stop with Charlie Chaplin references. We find other hints like the dog carrying a name tag reading ‘Keaton’ as an ode to actor Buster Keaton or Adhrika, the character played by child actor Sharvari, carrying a teddy bear as a subtle homage to actor Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean.

“I realised visual storytelling is my trademark when I explored writing. Silence is a universal language and it is my most favourite part of cinema,” Kiranraj says in an interview with TNM. The 32-year-old, who is basking in the success of 777 Charlie, made his feature film debut with the project. The film, which explores the relationship between a man and his pet dog, hit the big screens on June 10 in Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam and Telugu.

Though Kiranraj turned to visual storytelling for 777 Charlie, his interest in silent films is also reflective in his earlier works like his 2012 short film Kabbina Haalu (Sugarcane Juice), 2014 documentary The Yakshagana Puppets, and a segment in Amazon Prime Video’s 2019 anthology Katha Sangama that turned the spotlight on the protagonists and their pet dog.

“As a child, I remember my grandparents narrating stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and folklore, which made me visualise the characters and the scenes. I was so excited to watch televised versions of those stories, but I never stopped visualising and thinking about stories. I was surrounded by pet animals, including dogs, while growing up in Kerala. They acted as a foundation for my interest in visual storytelling,” the Kasaragod-based director says.

Several years before making his feature film directorial debut, Kiranraj was interested in writing scripts, observing what happened around him and developing screenplay. He juggled multiple jobs, from delivering newspapers in his teens to waiting tables and working as a security guard in Karnataka. But cinema was always the end goal. From writing and starring in plays during his school days, reading news stories about cinema while delivering newspapers, and writing stories in between his day jobs, the filmmaker says that he has always been drawn towards cinema.

“I did an acting course and tried my luck as a junior artiste to tell stories as an actor, but switched gears to direction when I realised acting might not lead to the path I desired,” he says.  Following the release of his short films and documentary, Kiranraj worked as an assistant director for the Kannada film Endendigu directed by Imran Sardhariya, and was part of Rishab Shetty directorial Kirik Party’s writing team. It was on the sets of Kirik Party that he met actor and producer Rakshit Shetty, paving the way for their creative collaboration with 777 Charlie.

Actor Rakshit Shetty and Charlie, the labrador who plays the lead in '777 Charlie'.

On the sets of 777 Charlie

From conceptualisation to making and finally post-production, 777 Charlie was a labour of love that took five years to complete. “In the years I spent working as a writer, AD and director, I realised that hundreds of films release each year, but only 4-5 are successful outside Karnataka too. I understood that I had to come up with a film so unique that it would lead to success. It was then that I decided to work on a film about the relationship between a man and his dog since we haven’t seen many Indian films in that genre,” Kiranraj shares.

And thus began the quest to make a film in which it is not the well-known hero (Rakshit) who gets dramatic introduction shots, but Charlie the adorable labrador who enjoys a better part of the screen time.

Read: 777 Charlie review: This epic man-dog tale ebbs and flows to tug at your heartstrings

Kiranraj explains that 777 Charlie was not a technically easy film to shoot. The film starred four labradors and the team had anticipated that the film had to be shot linearly since the puppies had to be trained throughout the shooting period. The team had researched about the kind of training that had to be undertaken and the time required for the project to be completed. Rakshit Shetty, who believed in the vision behind the film, came on board as the producer. The road ahead seemed like a walk in the park at that point, but Kiranraj explains that between 2016 to 2022 the makers had to overcome so many obstacles along the way.

If Rakshit revealed during media interactions that he witnessed spiritual growth after the completion of each film, Kiranraj observes that the entire team learnt about patience on the sets of 777 Charlie. “The shoot was supposed to be over in 80 days but it took us 160 days. The hero who had initially signed the film backed out due to date clashes. After Rakshit came on board, the shoot recommenced in 2017. But we had to give Charlie (the dog) the time to learn the required tasks to shoot for the film – it was an exhaustive list of 450 tasks. We had 10 varieties of treats available for the dog on the sets, but despite all the planning and training there were days when the shoot wouldn’t go as planned, so everything got delayed,” the director observes.

Giving an example, he recounts how the introductory shot where the dog had to cross a railway track right after a train passes by could be shot only once in a few hours. If the team missed the time frame, they had to wait for a few more hours before they could shoot a retake. Every member of the team was diligently waiting for the shot to be filmed except for the dog herself. The shoot was finally called off and filmed later, Kiranraj quips.

When audiences see Dharma walking along one side of a lane, we expect the camera to pan towards the other side and focus on the heroine, but in 777 Charlie, we find his adorable pet lab on the other side, following in Dharma’s footsteps. As opposed to the male lead waging a righteous war against the villains, it is Charlie’s flashback that leads to an action scene. In an emotional sequence towards the end, we once again find Charlie wrapping her paws around Dharma and not letting him go. “We did not want the focus to drift away from Charlie which is why the film does not have a romantic subplot for Dharma. All the people Dharma meets and the journey he embarks on, is associated with Charlie,” Kiranraj says.

The debutante director notes that Charlie was truly the hero of the film, both on and off the screen. “When the actor who initially signed the project couldn’t continue, I had told Rakshit that I might have to drop the project. Once Rakshit came on board as the hero, we faced other challenges like not being able to find a trainer who believed that the dogs could be trained. At almost every turn, we only saw negative signs. But Charlie was truly the glue that held the project together,” he says.

Director Kiranraj and Charlie

Read: 777 Charlie shows how films on dogs can be made with both heart and responsibility

The making of a ‘pan-Indian film’

In the Tamil dubbed version of 777 Charlie, we find the colony is in Ambattur, the calendar on the wall is in Tamil, a Tamil newspaper is wrapped around idlis, and a Tamil serial plays on the TV. It was with such attention to detail that each dubbed version was released. “It does not stop with these changes, we roped in the leading voice artists from each industry to ensure that Rakshit’s dubbing is in sync and the tone of the other characters do not change. As someone who has grown up watching many dubbed films, I was particular about ensuring that the essence of the original dialogues and the scenes don’t get lost in translation,” Kiranraj points out.

The same goes for the film’s soundtrack, which includes Rajasthani and Konkani folk songs. “When Dharma and Charlie embark on a journey, we wanted to retain these travel songs in their original language. Even with the songs where the lyrics were changed, we did not go for a line to line translation but roped in lyricists who would get the crux right,” the director remarks. The team also identified and roped in leading distributors from each industry – Prithviraj Sukumaran in Malayalam, Rana Daggubati in Telugu and Karthik Subbaraj in Tamil – to bag the theatrical rights for the film.

Watch 'O'Ga' song from 777 Charlie:

In a recently held success meet, the makers revealed that 777 Charlie has had a whopping run at the box-office, collecting Rs 150 crore so far. Will films like Vikrant Rona, 777 Charlie and KGF lead to more Kannada films making a splash in the OTT scene? Kiranraj certainly thinks so. “Not all movies can be pan-Indian releases. Kannada movies like Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana had a splendid run in the theatres. But having said that, there is hope that Kannada cinema, which was predominantly focused on theatrical release in the state, will soon reach OTT platforms and audiences from across the country,” he says.

As for his next course of action, Kiranraj currently has two to three scripts, but all that he reveals at this point is that he will be taking a small break before starting work on his next project.

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