The star attraction of Tamil director Vijay’s upcoming thriller Watchman is a golden-coloured fuzzball that faces guns, evades thugs and puts up a valiant fight. He is a retriever named Bruno, and his goal is to save his master.

“He is the watchman of the film, and has done an amazing job,” Vijay told over the phone from Chennai. “Once people watch him on the screen, they are going to want to adopt dogs.”

The April 12 release stars GV Prakash as a water seller who gets embroiled in a home invasion and meets Bruno in the bargain. Also starring Samyuktha Hegde, Yogi Babu, Muneeskanth and Raj Arjun, Watchman has been lensed by Nirav Shah and Saravanan Ramasamy and has background music by Prakash.

Vijay was tight-lipped about the exact role played by Bruno in the movie, but assured that the dog had a vital contribution to the plot.

“The movie is about a common man’s issue,” Vijay said. “GV’s character has a micro problem but he gets stuck in a macro problem. The film is about how he comes out of that problem. Bruno has a very important role in the movie, but I cannot reveal much about him.”

Watchman (2019).

The idea for Watchman was born out of Vijay’s interest in thrillers. The initial idea was to make a movie without dialogue. “I wanted to try something that I had not done earlier,” the director of Madrasapattinam, Deiva Thirumagal, Thailaivaa and Lakshmi said. “I learnt a lot from the dog in the movie, and it is a very special project because of GV [Prakash Kumar].”

Filming Bruno was both challenging and delightful, the director recalled. Working with choreographed action sequences in collaboration with action director Manohar Verma made the job easier. “It was a difficult task working with the dog, since acting with animals and kids are not in your control,” Vijay pointed out. “You have to write the film according to them.”

The crew worked with Bruno under the guidance of a trainer. “The dog is from Mumbai, and we also had a dupe dog for some scenes,” Vijay added. “We planned it out very well, and we were able to achieve what we wanted to. Animals create magic of sorts on the screen because they are not actors. They just listen to the trainer’s instructions and give the shots accordingly.”

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Permissions from the Animal Welfare Board of India took time to be obtained, and the film eventually got a green signal after around four months. Vijay had previously worked with animals in Saivam (2013), about a young girl who attempts to prevent her family from sacrificing her pet rooster for a ritual.

“I knew how to follow the rules and regulations on the set as I have worked with roosters in Saivam,” the said. “We went about it very nicely and were able to get the certificate. However, the release of the film got delayed since it took around three to four months to get the certificate.” Watchman, which is set over two nights, was shot over 30 days in Chennai.

The idea was to depict a real dog rather than an unusually gifted canine. Vijay’s references included thrillers with prominent animal appearances, including Mike Flanagan’s Hush (2016) and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (2017). “We watched a lot of films to get the mood and look right,” he said. “I wanted the dog to be a natural dog and not a superhero dog. His master is in trouble, and he wants to save him.”

Watchman (2019).

GV Prakash Kumar was a good fit for the movie, according to Vijay. The musician-turned-actor has composed music for most of Vijay’s films, including Kireedam (2007), Madrasapattinam (2010), Deiva Thirumagal (2011) and Thalaivaa (2013). “He has grown so much as an actor,” Vijay said. “As a friend, I was waiting to work with him on a good script, and this was that script. GV immediately got excited when I told him the story. No one but GV could have played this part. He is the ultimate next-door boy. There are no songs in the movie. It is a natural, real film.”

Among Vijay’s upcoming movies is Thalaivi, a biopic of movie star and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalaithaa. Written by Vijayendra Prasad (Baahubali, Manikarnika), the biopic will be headlined by Kangana Ranaut.

Will audiences accept a non-Tamil speaking actor as one of the icons of Tamil Nadu politics? “Everyone in India knows Jayalalithaa ma’am, and I did not want to restrict the film in any way,” Vijay said. “Kangana too is a national star. It is good to have a big actor play a big leader. We are trying for an honest biopic.”