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Anbulla Ghilli Director Interview: On the Making of the Film Starring a Labrador in the Lead

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Still from Anbulla Ghilli

Anbulla Ghilli, the upcoming Tamil film, stars a Labrador named Amigo in the title role, alongside actor Maithreya Rajasekhar.

The film is written and directed by Ramalingam Srinath, who tells us he adopted Amigo soon after he completed his debut film, Unakkenna Venum Sollu (2015). Amigo, who was 30-days old at the time, was also the filmmaker’s first pet.

The trailer of Anbulla Ghilli was released on Saturday by several members of the film industry, including cinematographer PC Sreeram and actor Aishwarya Rajesh. It mentions that this is the first time animals talk in Tamil cinema. Comedian Soori has provided the voice for Amigo’s character, Ghilli.

In conversation with Silverscreen India, Ramalingam says, “Anbulla Ghilli is a family drama that caters to all age groups, but will appeal to children especially. The film showcases the love between Ghilli (Amigo) and its master (Maithreya). While they are in Kodaikanal, they come across a forest ranger (Mime Gopi) who moonlights as a poacher. When the officer, in the process of finding hunting dogs, comes across Ghilli, he makes it a point to acquire the dog. As the master tries to distance himself from Ghilli to protect the dog, things go haywire and the rest of the story follows how the two find each other again.”

The film also stars Dushara Vijayan, Chandhini Tamilarasan, Vj Ashiq, Nanjil Vijayan, Ilavarasu, Poo Ramu, Indhumathi, Sri Ranjani and Baby Kritika.

The genesis of the film

When his debut film did not do well, Ramalingam reveals he went through a period of depression after which he tried unsuccessfully to approach actors for a romantic entertainer. It was then that the idea to make a film centred on a dog occurred to him. “I have this habit of doing mimicry and I often imitate Amigo’s voice. This triggered the idea that I could do a dog film, which wouldn’t require a hero.”

He began to write the script soon after and it took about six months to materialise. The filmmaker and another friend stayed in a cabin in Kodaikanal working on the script. And Amigo, of course, went along. “Every time I wrote a scene, I’d try to make Amigo perform it. I wanted to understand his psychology and gauge his scope for performance. However, I was also mindful that he is an animal with five senses and respected that while writing the film,” says Ramalingam.

It was his intention right from the start to cast his own dog since Labradors can be easily trained, he adds.

Still from Anbulla Ghilli

Once the script was completed, Ramalingam began approaching producers. After several producers turned him down or backed out from the project, the filmmaker got a call from Mime Gopi (his friend, who also played the antagonist in Unakkenna Venum Sollu) referring him to producer Mala and her husband, cinematographer Balasubramaniem. “I was quite skeptical when Gopi sent me to Mala ma’am and Bala sir, but the moment I saw two Labradors at their residence, I knew it would work out.”

The film is produced by E Mala and Sreenidhi Sagar, while Balasubramaniem handled the cinematography.

The lead actor Maithreya, Ramalingam says, is a dog-lover as well. “Balu sir suggested his name. We did a couple of test shots and found him perfect.” The filmmaker adds that he had initially had narrated the script to some established actors, but none were willing to take on the film since the dogs have more importance than the human lead.

Training and shooting

Anbulla Ghilli features five dogs altogether, out of which three play important roles. Two are Labradors, while the rest are Indian mongrels, and all dogs were borrowed from pet parents, Ramalingam tells us. “I discussed if they would be willing to let their dogs travel to Kodaikanal and stay there for the shoot. I also studied each dog’s personality before zeroing in on the final bunch.”

Still from Anbulla Ghilli

As part of the training, the dogs were encouraged to play together and get accustomed to each other’s smell. The actors, including Maithreya and Dushara Vijayan, also played with the dogs to become familiar to them.

Filming began in April 2019, but it had to be halted when Ramalingam’s mother fell ill. She passed away shortly thereafter. The filmmaker says shooting with Amigo for the film helped him get through this difficult time. “Eventually, we completed filming in the next two months,” he adds.

Before shooting with the canines, Ramalingam observed them for a few days to note their attention span, baits that lured them, and so on. “When filming the animal scenes, I’d let direction team watch the monitor, while I would be on the field instructing the dogs. For example, I would use a piece of food to manipulate their emotions,” he explains.

Recalling one of the hardest scenes to shoot, the director says, “There is a scene with child artist Baby Kritika and Amigo in a river. Due to certain restrictions of the forest department, we had to complete this scene in two hours though it was originally planned for two days. Amigo got very excited seeing the water and Kritika ended up getting a bit injured by a glass bottle that was on the bank. I considered rewriting the scene, but both Kritika and her mother insisted on going ahead with the original scene. That scene will bring tears to anyone’s eyes, be they a dog-lover or not.”

Still from Anbulla Ghilli

Dubbing and post-production

Interestingly, the dogs in Anbulla Ghilli have all been given human voices. The filmmaker observes that this was done to make the audience connect better with them as characters.

Roping in actors to provide dubbing for the dogs required some thought. “Initially, we though of approaching some known artists, but I did not want a hero’s voice as that can deviate attention from the dog to the hero. Also, unlike Hollywood, where even popular actors often voice animals in films, people in Tamil cinema see it as a prestigious issue. But when I contacted Soori sir, he came on board immediately,” says Ramalingam.

While Soori voiced Ghilli, composer Thaman’s sister, Yamini dubbed for Ghilli’s love interest.

The director says a VFX team, led by Sri Lanka-based Christopher Fernando, used bindis to mark seven spots on the dogs’ faces to aid in syncing their mouths to the dialogues. There are about 120 shots of the dogs speaking, the filmmaker mentions.

The film’s post-production has been completed and the first copy is ready, he adds. “The film is 1 hour and 58 minutes long. You should be able to watch it in a couple of months. We are waiting to find out if theatres will reopen soon, but we are keeping our options open regarding an OTT release as as well.”

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