How and when I fell for movies is not clear to me. Was it in those grainy black and white scenes from Aparajito? In an age when subtitles were yet to be seen on television, my grandfather would translate the dialogues from Bangla. Perhaps this love seeped in when I watched Guide and wished to be one on growing up, unlike my classmates who preferred professions that would involve planes, space shuttles or the guns.
An escape from life, art always offers respite for all the worldly woes. An impression of the past that is now all but gone, breathing slowly to live in a painting or that musical note of longing or of love, you choose. But it’s there. Like life itself leaving its mark ─ as brief as the purple flush of dawn or eternal as the skies.
Of the myriad themes and genres, I have touched, movies for animal lovers have always ruled the roost. From the well-known to the relatively obscure, this dog has compiled a list of some cinematic gems you might enjoy. I have skipped some popular titles like Marley and Me, March of the Penguins, Cats, and Dogs, Free Willy, etc. for most of you would have already watched them.
Two Brothers (2004) Genre: Adventure/Family
From one of my favourite director, Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Bear) Two Brothers follows the perils faced by two tiger cubs on separation (not at the hands of fate but humans) and their eventual dramatic reunion. Lost to the circus and cruel fights, the two brothers meet as forced enemies’ years later. Watch out for the enthralling finale!
Red (2008) Genre: Drama/Thriller
Punctuated with an incredible performance from Brian Cox, Red tells the story of a veteran recluse seeking retribution for the murder of his best friend ─ a dog named Red. Unlike the run of the mill revenge movies that Hollywood studios often churn out, Red is a study in righteousness. Red shines in its grief, prides in its realism where a crime against an animal is taken as a sorry affair but accepted norm. It is one of those rare dog movies where the title character has the minimum screen time and yet is present throughout in his master’s longing and pursuit for justice.
Red is there in the nail scratches on the door, the empty bowls, and forbidden dog collar; like a persistent memory inspiring Avery (Brian Cox) on his pursuit for justice against the rogue teenagers who killed his best friend. With a screenplay that merits the Jack Ketchum novel, Red is as raw as life itself.
Shiloh (1996) Genre: Drama/Family
Based on the beloved novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Shiloh narrates the story of a boy who befriends a dog he met wandering on the road. The owner of ‘Shiloh’, a hunter mistreats him. This coming of age movie makes us feel the weight of the baton which we must carry for our friends. As late movie critic Roger Ebert aptly said for the movie, “Adults may have the power to take away a kid’s dog and tell him a story about it, but they do not have the right. It isn’t some dumb kiddie picture. It’s about deep emotions, and represents the real world with all of its terrors and responsibilities.”
A Boy and His Dog (1975) Genre: Sci-fi/Black comedy
I might be courting trouble for listing this controversial post-apocalyptic film which bends on societal norms but then what good is a list that doesn’t leave you with an uneasy feeling in your guts. Often ridiculed for its misogynist theme, this movie adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s novella in its core is a sci-fi with a love triangle – love or friendship?
Set in 2024 AD, A boy and his dog follow the survival adventures of a boy Vic and his best friend ‘Blood’ with whom he is able to communicate telepathically. Rated R, the stays true to its tagline – A rather kinky tale of survival.
The Cave of the Yellow dog (2005) Genre: Drama
Slow as life itself, this artwork shot in a documentary style asks for patience from the audience. The scenic locales and ethnic Mongol culture shot up close and personal with sheer honesty would make you believe that you are there in the moment, in the wilds and the grasslands. It brings to screen the tale of a little girl who finds a pup. Although the parents are against the idea of adopting the dog, she persists and… (OK, no spoilers here!)
A Dog’s Life (1918) Genre: Comedy
In the thirty-minute short A Dog’s Life, poor and out of luck Charlie Chaplin finds an adorable homeless pooch and together they battle crooks, discover love and ward off their financial troubles. A delighting short movie!
Halo (1997) Genre: Family
Santosh Sivan’s Halo captures the innocence of childhood beautifully. Seven-year-old Sasha has lost her mother; her yearning for maternal affection keeps her lonely. To keep the little girl upbeat, the domestic aid fabricates a story that a miracle will happen in the form of a Halo. Coincidentally there comes a street dog and Sasha believes it to be the miracle sent by god. Her entire world begins to revolve around Halo – she talks to him, sleeps with him until the day Halo goes missing. Sasha’s search takes her to the streets of Bombay (okay, Mumbai) and its various occupants. This National Award winner boasts of a climax that is bittersweet. It leaves you with a lump as well as a smile and that my friend is no mean achievement.
Eight Below (2006) Genre: Adventure/Family
In the latter half of the 1950s, Japanese scientists stationed in Antarctica had to leave an expedition midway on account of the harsh storm. Among many things they left behind, there were also some lives – the sled dogs. The amazing true story of the dogs’ rescue was painted on the celluloid in Japanese cult classic Nankyoku Monogatari (1983). Eight Below is Disney’s homage to the same.
Eight sled dogs left chained at the research base wait for their master to return in an unforgiving wild and white Antarctic winter. The flights are canceled until next spring and the subtitles reading the no. of days the dogs have been on their own in the wilderness leave us with a longing to hold these Huskies. Your heart goes out to the guide Jerry (Paul Walker) who in every frame lives this pain. The cinematography is spot on, the long shots capturing the face of the protagonists – the dogs, stay true to their grit and valor.
Duma (2005) Genre: Adventure/Family
Duma brings to screen a believable story of friendship between a boy and well, a cheetah. The team of Xan, the boy, and Duma make you believe, in a heartwarming way, of somewhat mild-mannered Calvin and Hobbes. Unlike what studios of late have relied upon – special effects and eerie storylines, Duma is a breath of fresh air that resonates with the past. Let this gust lead you to the wild like a Rudyard Kipling story.
Tahaan (2008) Genre: Drama
Another winner from Santosh Sivan, Tahaan is perhaps the only movie after Balthazar which shows that resigned aloofness that a donkey has to his fate. The gentle beast of burden often mocked by humans as a reference for dimwits is truly a sage. If only one has the eyes to see.
Tahaan narrates the story of a poor Kashmiri boy whose donkey has been confiscated towards payment of his family’s debts. Trapped between the tensions of India – Pakistan differences, this innocent movie, set it in the breathtaking landscape of Kashmir, draws on compassion and friendship that a boy has for his donkey.
My Dog Tulip (2009) Genre: Animation/Drama
An animated movie unlike any, My Dog Tulip is not for the kids. Don’t be alarmed, it is the story of a man who rescues a dog and lives with him for close to 15 years, discovering the only true love that he ever will in his life. Based on the autobiographical novel by J.R. Ackerley, this aesthetically hand-drawn animation with splashes of watercolor depicts sorrow, embarrassment, and love of a man who is concerned and convinced about his dog’s needs and loneliness.
Very private in its details which often verge on the border of startling, it shows with genuine concern what a popular movie say, Marley and me, would steer away from. A study in canine behavior, Tulip’s needs are voiced with a genuine concern in Christopher Plummer’s narration.
Which is your favourite animal movie?