Someone who could emote well. Also, furry…and canine.
He was looking for a dog.
Sibiraj goes so far as to call himself the second hero of the film.
The dog whom he found through Twitter – Idoh – is the star.
There’s an interesting backstory to this whole casting process, the actor starts.
Several canines had auditioned for the role.
The dog that starred in Akshay Kumar’s Entertainment was the first. The Golden Retriever was quite cute and intelligent, but Sibi wanted a dog that can instill terror, follow complex commands, and perform action sequences. And much to his bad luck, none of the dogs that auditioned met his conditions.
But the actor didn’t give up. He tweeted his request, which was then retweeted by a lot of people, including director Venkat Prabhu. The Marketing Head of a dog food company read Venkat Prabhu’s tweet, and introduced him to Masood Ahmed who runs Stealth Paws in Bengaluru. And this is where Sibi found Idoh – the hero of his movie, Naaigal Jaakirathai.
At a puppy farm in Bengaluru.
Masood Ahmed’s farm is a hub of intense activity. All canine residents there are empowered to work in extremely stressful conditions. Many of them are actually deployed in Jammu & Kashmir and Naxalite areas to perform military operations.
Idoh is no different. A Belgian Shepherd Malinios, he was born – fittingly – on August 15, 2009. To serve the country.
And also perhaps, to star in a movie.
When Sibi approached Ahmed with his request, the latter recommended Idoh. “I knew he could slip into the role because he is social and tough at the same time. He is my daughter’s dog, so he gets along with kids too. Since the shooting spot would be full of people, I thought Idoh would be quite ideal,” explains Ahmed. This is the first time that he’s deploying his dog on this “different” mission. And perhaps the last time too, Ahmed admits, for his dogs are into serious business otherwise.
They aren’t the ones that seek a pat on the head or belly-rubs. They love hardcore action.
“I could understand that Sibi is a genuine dog lover, and knew that Idoh would be well taken care of.”
An ecstatic Sibi then brought Idoh home to Chennai. And since the dog was subjected to intense training back in the camp, it was imperative that they get to know each other better. So, they hung out together for two weeks.
The actor, and the dog.
A trainer from Ahmed’s camp had accompanied Idoh. But the process was challenging all the same, for Sibi already had three male dogs at home. Unsurprisingly, his furry friends didn’t quite like the addition to their family. “It was a tough phase. I had to make my other dogs feel assured, and at the same time, I had to win Idoh’s trust,” he laughs. From taking Idoh on walks, to feeding and bathing him, Sibi and his new co-star go acquainted. “In two weeks, he started receiving my commands as well,” the actor reveals.
The canine artiste was now ready for shoot.
The first schedule was a breeze. There was a vet on call at all times, and they had fun working together. “We even shared a caravan,” chuckles Sibi, “when we shot with the heroine, she would occupy one half of the caravan and Idoh and I would use the other half!”
The second schedule, though, was quite tough. Idoh was trained to do a lot of stunts, and also to bite on command during the climax sequence. And unfortunately, the command was “action”. So whenever director Shakti Soundar Rajan went “start, camera, action…”, Sibi’s canine friend would come right at his wrist. “But it was fun all the same,” the actor laughs gamely.
Of course, they later learnt to gesture the word, instead of saying out loud.
Idoh also had to execute risky stunts during filming. So, the team wanted to use a body-double for him; and his brother, Caesar was considered for job. “But Ahmed was confident that Idoh wouldn’t need a double,” declares Sibi, “he said, ‘for all the training that Idoh underwent in the camp, he would actually gain weight after the shoot’. It’s apparently that simple for him.”
Naaigal Jaaikirathai was filmed in 75 days. And Idoh’s portions were shot over 65 days. When it was time for Idoh to step down though, Sibi couldn’t stand the separation. “When he went back to Bangalore, I started missing him. I had lived with him for more than two months, and was quite attached to him.”
The actor considered keeping Idoh for himself, “but he is Ahmed’s family dog. So that would cause a void in their family too.”
Sibi, an ardent dog lover, always wanted to make a movie about dogs. Filmmaker Shakti Soundar Rajan did have a script in which a dog plays a tiny role; but Sibi, inspired by Hollywood movies like Hachiko and Marley & Me, dreamt of making a film in which a canine star dons an integral role. And, Soundar Rajan rose to the occasion with Naaigal Jaakirathai. “While working on the script, we did some research on those Hollywood films. They had done well at the box office, regardless of the actor’s star quotient,” observed Sibi, “and a movie like this is quite crucial for me at this stage of my career.”
Also, Madhan Karky has penned two special songs in honour of Idoh. – Doggy Style and En Nenjil. Sample these lines:
ஹீரோ நம்ம ஹீரோ பாரு
நாலு காலு பாய்ச்சலு டா
ஊரில் உள்ள வில்லனுக்கெல்லாம்
நாளு முழுக்க காய்ச்சல் டா
பாசம் காட்டி நீயும் வந்தா
வாலாட்டி நிப்பான் டா!
மோசம் பண்ண நீயும் பாத்தா
பல்ல உன் மேல் வைப்பான் டா!
உன்னத் திட்ட மாட்டான் இனி
அதுக்கு காரணம் வேற யாரு சுப்பிரமணி!
Take a bow bow… take a bow bow
Idoh is currently back in his farm; training to be a commando. But Sibi misses him alright; for at press meets and promo events, fans want to take a selfie with the canine star, Suppiramani.
Naaigal Jaakirathai releases this month.