At the turn of the century, Kolkata’s civic body had a beauty problem. “What is the best way to kill a street dog and ensure that the city looked spruce?” the authorities wondered. The options were derived from the history of ethnic cleansing around the world — from kidnapping the curs and subjecting them to a firing squad to poisoning them in gas chambers — before the authorities hit upon an economically viable idea of rounding up stray dogs and locking them in pinjrapoles or “concentration camps”. What the dogs did next makes up a dark, satirical novella, Lubdhak, by eminent writer Nabarun Bhattacharya. A graphic novel by Madhuja Mukherjee and a stop-motion animation film by Avik Mukhopadhyay, titled Lubdhak: The Dog Star, attempt to recreate Bhattacharya’s doomsday landscape in which one might find echoes of systemic oppression, underdogs and the power of many. The project has won the India Foundation for the Arts fellowship. Excerpts from interviews with Mukherjee and Mukhopadhyay:
What is the story of Lubdhak?
Lubdhak is one of Nabarun Bhattacharya’s less-known works and it was he who suggested that we turn it into a film. In the story, the city council’s plans have compelled the dogs to fear for their lives. It is no secret that the dogs are all getting rounded up and taken away. Meanwhile, the Alpha Canis Majoris or the Dog Star, the brightest star in the night sky, starts shining brighter than ever before.
What drew you to the story?
Nabarun Bhattacharya was an extremely political person and I interpret Lubdhak as having references to the way Naxalites were rounded up and killed as well as to the concentration camps of Auschwitz. There is also a larger connection with the universe in the form of the myth of Anubis, the Egyptian god of dogs. I also find, in the story of dogs coming together and trying to connect with the larger world, an echo of people making their voices heard on social media and finding support from around the world through movements such as the Arab spring, the umbrella movement in Hong Kong, the sunflower movement of Taiwan or #Blacklivesmatter. The underdogs are making their protests loud and clear.
What is your style in the graphic novel?
I like the idea of black and white, which expresses the grimness of the story. Monochromes also enable me to explore tonality in the story. Since this is a collaborative project, I have photographs of the models that will be used in the stop-motion animation film made by Avik as well as sketches.
What is stop-motion animation?
The stop-motion format does not have much of a history in India. A story about dogs cannot be made with live action, and we decided that stop-motion could do justice to it. In Lubdhak, we have created miniature models of dogs. There is an armature inside their bodies so that, when we move the body parts, it stays in that position for us to shoot. In a stop-motion film, we set up each scene individually and shoot it frame by frame. When you line up the frames in post-production, you get the movement. It is a skill-based technique that is time consuming, and involves meticulous planning as well as patience.
Lubdhak is an extremely political work. As an alumnus of FTII, you may have read an allegory of protest and suppression in it.
It is a story of a group revolting against a system, and of the system abolishing them. It is an old story of exploitation, told in a new format. We also decided that we were not going to put human characteristics in the animals. The Disney style is to show animals, who laugh and talk like humans. Why involve animals?
How do you express animals emotions in the film?
We observed stray dogs, we saw that they bark and move their bodies in a certain way when they are happy, and their limbs move with particular emotions when they sleep. We took a lot of photographs and made videos of dogs and studied those to figure out their ways of communicating.