“You don’t have to wait anymore… he’s not coming back,” will cinema lovers ever fully recover from this scene in Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. Unlikely. While films depicting human relationships hold great emotional power, there’s a unique enchantment in narratives that showcase the extraordinary bonds between animals and their human buddies. These stories, in a way, also beautifully address all uncertainties about love: from whether language is a barrier to whether love diminishes after we depart.
Consider the number of animal videos we come across on social media daily, which bring smiles to our faces. Often, our deep affection for animals remains unnoticed. Consequently, it’s no surprise that movies featuring animals in significant roles hold a unique and cherished spot in our hearts.
Now, a new Malayalam film has hit the theatres featuring dogs as central characters. Titled Valatty (Tail-wagger), the film, helmed by debutant Devan, revolves around Tomy and Amalu, a golden retriever and cocker spaniel, who decide to leave their homes, leading to a series of struggles they confront along the way.
The film commences by introducing Tomy (voiced by Roshan Mathew), residing with his human parents in a gated community. Tomy harbours affection for Amalu (Raveena Ravi), who lives opposite his home, and his feelings are reciprocated. However, Amalu’s family discovers their relationship and disapproves since Tomy hails from a non-vegetarian Christian family while Amalu is raised in a Brahmin household. As the plot unfolds, it is revealed that Amalu is pregnant with Tomy’s puppies, leading both families to confine the two dogs. Tomy learns from his close friend Poovan (Aju Varghese), a rooster, that Amalu’s family plans to relocate her to a different house. Heartbroken, Tomy follows Poovan’s advice and decides to elope with Amalu. One night, they escape their homes and venture into the city.
Facing challenges in search of food, they encounter a wise senior Labrador (Indrans), who directs them to a street-food vendor (Rohini). The vendor eventually adopts them, alongside her indie dog, Haridas (Soubin Shahir). Though initially hesitant due to Tomy and Amalu being show-quality dogs, Haridas eventually befriends them. Meanwhile, Amalu gets kidnapped by an unknown person, leaving Tomy behind. The remainder of the film focuses on Tomy and Haridas’ endeavours to rescue Amalu and bring her back home.
A film filled with humour and heartwarming scenes that delve into the emotional connections between animals, a territory rarely explored by the Malayalam industry or Indian cinema in general, Valatty, right from the start, captivates audiences with endearing moments. Devan’s decision to tell the entire story from the perspective of different animals also works in favour of the movie.
However, the film’s reliance on struggles akin to those faced by humans prevents it from becoming a purely dog movie. Honestly, the story of Valatty could easily be adapted into a romantic film featuring human characters, especially if we disregard the third act for a moment.
While the first act aims to expose the pettiness of human beings by showcasing a Brahmin family’s reluctance to accept someone raised by a Christian family, it raises concerns about selecting a topic that has led to several lynchings and violence even today. Using this topic to portray the struggles faced by canines seems like an easy approach and, simultaneously, does an injustice to those who have genuinely suffered the consequences of such discrimination.
Moreover, the film fails to adequately address this crucial subject, after it serves as the reason for the inciting incident in the narrative, creating the impression that the makers did not thoroughly consider the responsible handling of such a grave issue.
While the film also highlights the dark reality of illegal pharmaceutical companies abducting dogs for medical experiments, transforming them into bloodthirsty creatures or abandoning them to their fate, Valatty, towards the end, portrays disturbing images of canines seeking revenge by physically attacking those responsible. At a time when stray dog attacks are very rampant in Kerala, as a result of which many, including children, have lost their lives, these portions should have been approached with greater sensitivity.
Though debutant Devan has done a neat job making the movie, if the director-writer had invested more thought into the narrative, Valatty could have become a heartwarming and captivating dog tale.
The actors, including Roshan Mathew, Soubin Shahir, Sunny Wayne, Saiju Kurup, Raveena Ravi, and Aju Varghese, who lent their voices to the endearing animals, have done an impressive job.
However, the use of CGI to create lip movements for the animals emerges as the most vexing aspect of the film. Since it is a movie centred around dogs, the audiences are well aware that dogs do not communicate in the same manner as humans. This attempt to make the animals’ lip movements look realistic backfires on the makers and creates the impression that they underestimate the intelligence of the audiences by assuming the latter cannot grasp such basic facts.
While DOP Vishnu Panicker and editor Ayoob Khan have accomplished an impressive feat, ensuring that the scenes in the film appear pleasing and flow naturally, given that it almost entirely revolves around animals, Varun Sunil’s music contributes significantly to establishing the right atmosphere. However, it’s worth noting that the title track may remind some viewers too much of the intro music from the procedural comedy TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
In short, Valatty is bound to entertain those seeking a lighthearted movie, but its lasting impact on viewers’ hearts is uncertain and will solely hinge on their fondness for dogs.
Valatty movie cast (voice actors): Roshan Mathew, Soubin Shahir, Sunny Wayne, Saiju Kurup, Raveena Ravi, Aju Varghese
Valatty movie director: Devan
Valatty movie rating: 2 stars
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