Find someone to look at you the way Charlie looks at you. When Charlie first sees Dharma sauntering through the mist, manly with his beard and two-effs-given attitude, she is smitten. Her gaze doesn’t waver from the object of her attention, neither does the rest of her body move. If she could speak, she might have broken into song.

That Charlie is a dog soon becomes incidental. Kiranraj K’s Kannada film 777 Charlie, about the bond between a human and his pet, has one of the most memorable canine performances in recent memory. Charlie, played for the most part by a Labrador Retriever of the same name, is the film’s limpid-eyed and moist-nosed soul, conveying the same range of emotions as her human counterparts.

Kannada actor-director Rakshit Shetty is Dharma, a grouchy loner whose heart is as empty as his house is cluttered with beer bottles and the remnants of yesterday’s idli. Disgusted with everybody but most of all himself, Dharma is not quite his residential colony’s favourite uncle.

Redemption comes bearing expressive brown peepers and a thumping tail. Forced into dogsitting Charlie, Dharma develops an unshakeable relationship with the animal. The ties harden into a sailor’s knot when Charlie faces a health crisis.

777 Charlie, which has been dubbed into Hindi, pays tribute to Charlie Chaplin. There’s also a sideways reference to Chaplin’s peer Buster Keaton – Charlie’s original name is Keaton. Charlie’s antics and spirited personality suggest that she is a direct descendant of the silent movie stars, forever disrupting her surroundings by scampering about.

Torture Song, 777 Charlie (2022).

Among the cast are Sangeetha Sringeri as an animal right activist, Raj B Shetty as a veterinarian, Bobby Simha as a stud farm owner whom Dharma meets during his travels and Danish Sait as a journalist. But the 165-minute film is mostly a two-hander between Dharma and Charlie, both of whom have been scarred in different ways and are seeking salvation and love.

Brave is the actor who generously shares the screen with a dog capable of a National Film Award-worthy performance. Brilliantly trained by Pramod BC, the dogs that portray Charlie not only act beautifully but overact too, when required.

Kiranraj’s screenplay starts out well, giving us shards of Dharma’s brittle personality and meticulously building up his rapport with Charlie. But unwilling – or simply unable – to cut away from suffering human and adorable beast, the film descends into a pile of soggy sentiment.

Dharma’s road trip with Charlie seemingly has a destination, but the film takes forever to get there. Packed with interludes and distractions that are further interspersed with peppy songs and moments that mirror YouTube videos about overperforming canines, 777 Charlie loses its grip and its way.

If Dharma is saved by Charlie, the film too is rescued ever so often by a single look or bark. Showered with loving close-ups by cinematographer Arvind Kashyap and given her generous share of reaction shots by editor Pratheek Shetty, Charlie is always in the moment.

Leading man Rakshit Shetty strenuously traces Dharma’s journey from grumpy misanthrope to sensitive carer in the later sections, but unfortunately for him, it’s already too late. Sorry human, we want more dog.

777 Charlie (2022).