Tuffy is a deeply important member of the Choudhary clan, umpiring a cricket match, playing match-maker between couples, and divining the message of god and reuniting lovers. But what was life for Tuffy, the artist also known as Redo, before stardom?
Redo, the Indian spitz who plays Tuffy in Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1996), was adopted by lead actress Madhuri Dixit after the shoot. Dixit’s gesture ended the career of the “dog ex machina” without which the movie could not have had a happy ending.
The mockumentary Tuffy: True Bollywood Stories, directed by Vijayeta Kumar, chronicles the supposed life and times of the top dog. The story of his fame and fall is narrated by his mother (played by Paromita Vohra), a film critic (Deepanjana Pal), his manager (Kaizad Kotwal), his make-up artist (Vrajesh Hirjee) and his co-star from HAHK, Renuka Shahane (playing herself). Comedienne Aditi Mittal, who co-wrote the film with Jugal Mody, makes a brief appearance towards the end as the woman whom Tuffy supposedly madly loved, leading to a sting in the tale. The short film begins with an interesting premise but ends up as a shaggy-dog story with too much talk and not enough action.
What the film does achieve is to remind us of the numerous industrious birds and animals that have featured in Barjatya’s films. In Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) the song “Kabootar Ja Ja Ja” is dedicated to a pigeon named Handsome. The heroine urges Handsome to deliver a love letter to the hero after the clever bird picks up her undelivered missive and hints that it can do the job.
In Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon (2003), the animated parrot Raja is as colourful as his plumage, singing old film songs to entertain members of the family and keeping secrets. In this video, the cast and crew of the film describe their collective experience of working with a cartoon character with utmost sincerity. Barjatya recalls how the idea of Raja was developed during the filming of Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999), in which a parrot was used in a sequence but could not be incorporated in the final film. After Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon tanked, Barjatya decided against using animals in his movies.
Barjatya was following a tradition set by films in the 1970s and ‘80s. During these decades, pets earned their loyalty. They were merely ornamental, but propelled the narrative forward.
In Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), elephants save the orphan Raju from a leopard attack. One of the elephants, Ramu, forms an inseparable bond with Raju. Their friendship is often tested to its limits, giving the film its most popular song “Chal Chal Chal Mere Saathi”, which earned lyricist Anand Bakshi a special award from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The horse named Dhanno in Sholay (1975) has a brief but vital role. Dhanno is a mute recipient of her owner Basanti’s constant chatter and even saves her honour on one occasion. Manmohan Desai’s Coolie (1983) has an eagle named Allah Rakha (real name Ballu), which saves its master Iqbal (Amitabh Bachchan) from goons by gouging their eyes out.
Manmohan Desai loved to use animals in his productions. Badal, the horse in his hit film Mard (1985), goes everywhere with its owner, Raju (Amitabh Bachchan). Badal also has a comic sub-plot in which it falls in love with a mare (actually a statue).
A longer role with serious acting chops (including shedding copious tears and lighting the funeral pyre of its dead master) belongs to Brownie, the black Labrador in Teri Meherbaniyan (1985). Brownie is the real hero of the film, who avenges the death of his master Ram (Jackie Shroff).
In 1992, Desai imitator David Dhawan introduced a dog with a double role in Bol Radha Bol. The hero Kishen Malhotra (Rishi Kapoor) returns to his house after a trip to discover that a duplicate Kishen and his duplicate dog have replaced him and his pet Moti.
The monkey Bajrangi in Dhawan’s Aankhen (1993) is one of the comic heroes alongside Govinda and Chunky Pandey. Bajrangi’s scenes with actor Kader Khan provide some of the best laughs in the film. In the song “Bade Naam Ka Bandar”, Bajrangi is compared to top stars through the lyrics “Maare toh Dharmendra, naache toh Jeetendra, roye toh Rajendra.”
Computer-generated animals have mostly replaced the real thing in the movies. As Tuffy: True Bollywood Stories reminds us, this loss has not gone unnoticed.