Jesse Alk’s Film ‘Pariah Dog’ Gives New Meaning to Love and Longing

American filmmaker Jesse Alk’s film ‘Pariah Dog’ paints Kolkata through the eyes of four lonely souls who give meaning to their lives through their love for stray dogs.

In cities all across the length and breadth of India we find packs of stray dogs who walk the streets, roam about homes and food outlets and struggle to find both love and food. But while the struggle of these stray dogs is common to all cities in the country what is also common to them all is the availability of those kind-hearted, gentle spirits who cannot neglect the pain of these helpless animals and go out of their ways to attend to their injuries, give them some company, feed them and give them all the love in the world.

When American filmmaker Jesse Alk decided to make a documentary about something in India, he could not help himself become more and more interested into the lives of these selfless dog lovers and tell the story of how they stepped out of their comfort boxes to make life for these canines livable.

His film “Pariah Dog” is an absorbing chronicle of a group of people who have offered their lives to take care of these street dogs in one part of Kolkata. It is the unconditional love for the canines that binds the otherwise distinct lives of an aristocratic woman undergoing a rough phase in her life, an artist whose deepest desire is to buy a patch of land on which he can build a house for these dogs, an auto rickshaw driver, a reality show contestant and an unmarried house- helper who is ever devoted to making the lives of these canines better.

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What is beautiful about this film is the fact that while it beautifully bridges all these distinct stories with the thread of love for dogs and tells us that no matter how different people may be, if they share a common passion it is indeed possible for them to come together. The film also paints the potrait of Kolkata as a city that is accommodating, full of humanity even while it is at the verge of decline. Its a city that is undergoing tremednous change but at one level there are things that have remained unaltered.

The documentary was shown at the recently concluded Krakow Film Festival and will again be screened at the DocFest in San Francisco. The film is about 77 minutes long. All the characters despicted in the film are loners and it is the love for dogs that lends meaning in their lives. While neigbours often look at these characters with irritation and accuse them of being ‘crazy’ for loving these strays to the extent of obsession, these dog lovers have taken it as their primary agenda to serve these innocent lives.  The director met several dog lovers and noted their stories with great compassion before finally choosing the four who feature in his documentary. The film took about five years to get completed.

The documentary is ethnographic in nature and took the director ample amount of time for research and spending intense moments with each of the characters of the film. He first came to Kolkata in 2010 and began his research for the film. By the end of the shooting, the director had collected 165 hours of footage and knew that if he had to tell a story that was to leave a lasting imapct, he would have to make it cinematic, lyrical and of great quality. He cut and edited the documentary several times before finally allowing the audience a chance to view it.

Pariah Dog is a film that is entirely self-funded and was possible because of the director’s own commitment and savings. He also sold off the family gold and other property to put into the film.

Perhaps it is true that when love transcends all boundaries it becomes difficult to differentiate between what is practical and what is unfeasible. The director’s love for dogs and his desire to tell the story of the way these four protagonists found meaning in their own lives through their love for dogs, convinced him to sell off his gold and give up all his savings. This indeed shows that love has no limits!

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