777 Charlie, the upcoming Kannada film starring Rakshit Shetty and a Labrador, is a travel adventure film directed by debutant Kiranraj K. The makers, when unveiling the film’s teaser on June 6, announced that 777 Charlie will also be released in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi.
The film is produced by Rakshit Shetty and GS Gupta under the banner of Paramvah Studios. In addition to Rakshit and the dog, it also stars Danish Sait, Sangeetha Sringeri, Raj B Shetty and Bobby Simha in pivotal roles.
In conversation with Silverscreen India, director Kiranraj talks about the research, training workshops, and all that went into the making of 777 Charlie.
From spark to story draft
“In 2017, while I was working as an associate director on the Rakshit Shetty-starrer Kirik Party, I was contemplating whether I should continue to assist or make my directorial debut. When I was in this state of confusion, one day, I happened to see a mother dog and her puppies playing — it was a heartwarming experience. I have grown up with dogs, cats and cows at home and animal behaviour is not new to me, but when I saw these dogs, I got a spark and decided to make a film on the animal-human bond,” says Kiranraj.
The filmmaker first pitched the one-liner to actor Aravinnd Iyer, who was also part of Kirik Party. When the actor agreed to do the film, Kiranraj began his preparation of the script.
“Rakshit decided to produce the film. However, during the scripting and research process, I realised that training puppies would require more time than anticipated,” says the director. This meant the film would demand a lot of time commitment from the actor and Aravinnd backed out of the project due to scheduling issues. “Then, Rakshit came on board to play the lead role.”
Travel adventure film
Kiranraj tells us that 777 Charlie will be a full-fledged travel adventure. “As a producer, Rakshit did not put any budget restrictions. And once he got on board to play the lead, we reworked the script and it became a grand canvas with no compromises.”
Expanding on the film’s story, the director says, “Rakshit plays the role of Dharma, an introverted man who has no social life. When Dharma meets Charlie (the Labrador), they go on an expedition from Karnataka to Kashmir and the journey serves a great purpose in their lives.”
The film was shot by cinematographer Arvind S Kashyap in around 160-170 days over three years (from 2018 to 2020) in Mysore, Goa, Kodaikanal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Kashmir.
On the inspirations behind the two main characters, Kiranraj says, “Rakshit’s character is named Dharma and the story is inspired by the Mahabaratha. The epic begins and ends with the significance of a dog. Pandava’s Dharma expresses profound love for the dog that accompanies him on his journey to heaven. I also once read of a man on a padayatra (pilgrimage by foot) who was approached by a dog seeking food. When he offered it food, the dog accompanied the man throughout the journey and even back home. That illustrates the trust and loyalty that a dog shows a human. These references helped me when developing the characters of Dharma and Charlie.”
Research and training workshop
A lot of research and training went into the making of 777 Charlie, Kiranraj tells us. “I spent four-and-a-half years on this film. A year and a half was dedicated to research on dog behaviours and dog-human relationship, and developing the script. It then took two-and-a-half years of training workshops to prepare for the shoot. Initially, each dog was trained on its own and then we had a combined workshop for Rakshit and the dog.”
Charlie is played by a couple of dogs in the film — one, a puppy and the other, a grown dog. “We provided the training for the puppy first and shot Charlie’s younger portions. Later, we held another training session for a grown-up dog for the older Charlie’s sequences,” says the director.
The team had adopted four dogs, of which only two acted in the film. They rented a house and appointed caretakers for the dogs. But finding a trainer proved to be a tough task. Many backed out stating that it was impossible to make the dogs do the required activities. Finally, one trainer, Pramod, agreed to work with them and provided three years of full commitment.
While they used VFX for a few scenes and transitions, Kiranraj says they did not use any VFX for Charlie’s scenes.
“I did not have any reference for making 777 Charlie. I did not come across any full-fledged Indian films featuring dogs. Hollywood dog films are technically brilliant, but they typically use VFX and I did not want to do that. Thus, we did not have any behind-the-scenes or making videos to use as reference. Later, I watched a Hungarian film called White Dog. They had shot with 200 stray dogs. That gave me the confidence to go on with 777 Charlie,” says Kiranraj.
The 777 Charlie team has also shot a making video of the film, which they plan to release as a documentary. “The main motive behind this documentary is for it to serve as a reference for filmmakers who aspire to make films featuring dogs. It will be a three-hour-long documentary that will premiere on a digital platform after the film’s release,” says the director.
Making a pan-Indian film
On how 777 Charlie took shape as a pan-Indian film, Kiranraj says, “When Rakshit came on board as an actor, he suggested we work on the script keeping the pan-Indian audience in mind. He understood that dog-human relationship is a universal concept. So we reworked the script to ensure it could connect with people across the country. From costumes to locations, we have made it neutral.”
Even the lyrics for the teaser song, instead of simply being translated, were freshly written in all languages. “We gave all the lyricists the tune, explained the concept and showed them visuals to ensure authenticity in the song in all languages,” Kiranraj says, adding that another song in the film has been sung by Malayalam star Vineeth Sreenivasan.
The team reached out to potential distributors in other languages. Karthik Subbaraj and Prithviraj Sukumaran liked the idea and agreed to present it in Tamil and Malayalam, respectively. “We are currently in talks with a distribution house for Telugu and Hindi,” says Kiranraj.
The 777 Charlie team is planning for a theatrical release sometime between September and December, followed by a digital premiere.