Salil Jason Fernandez on ‘The Tails of Boo-Boo & Cuddly Poo’

The director’s documentary film talks about the plight of stray animals

You hear ‘Boo-Boo’ and ‘Cuddly Poo’ and you are bound to go ‘aww’! Terms of endearment that director Salil Jason Fernandez has hoisted his documentary — The Tails of Boo-Boo & Cuddly Poo, which talks about the plight of stray animals with a focus on cruelty, abandonment, rescue and love — on. “We hope this is more than a movie and becomes a movement. We wanted people to remember the film in a unique way... as a hook we felt that ‘Boo-Boo’ and ‘Cuddly Poo’ were cute names to associate with the animals... if we could sensitise the public in addressing neighbourhood strays as ‘Boo-Boo’ for cats and ‘Cuddly Poo’ for dogs instead of the more aggressively toned kutta or billi, then we are done. Almost like terms of endearment that perhaps couples address each other in romantic moments,” Salil tells t2, with producer by Vandana Sethhi and actor Samir Kochhar by his side. Samir is among the various personalities — from Maneka Gandhi to Maria Goretti and Jim Sarbh to Cyrus Broacha and Shraddha Kapoor — who feature in the documentary.

Salil, what prompted you to make this documentary now?

Salil: I think my affinity towards animals started from my childhood. Empathy comes from nurture and I was lucky to be born in a household where my parents taught me that. We always had pets. Over the years, I have felt that angst for the strays and I used to donate money and raise funds... but in the last few years, since 2018, I started doing more grassroot-level work like rescuing dogs and cats, getting them medically treated and rehabilitating them. That’s when I saw the plight of the strays first-hand and the taboos and myths that society had towards them.

Last year during the lockdown, since people were not out on the streets, more animals came out as they usually hide out of fear. I feed all the cats and dogs in my neighbourhood. Basically there is no platform to disseminate the information to spread awareness. I thought of using my skill set to make a short video that could feature friends like Samir (Kochhar) and others and maybe it’ll go viral and will perhaps do some good to educate and inspire.

I had no idea that it would gain momentum and become a two-hour-and-45-minute long feature film. Most importantly, it was overwhelming to see the support I received from the professionals, the technical crew that worked behind the camera. About 150 people have collaborated on this project. The film is currently doing the international festival circuit. We can’t wait for the world to see it.

When did you put this together?

Salil: It’s been a little over a year. We started in June 2020. Vandana (Sethhi, founder Water Communications and Earth Films) was a massive pillar of support… not only in financing it, but also giving me the creative freedom and believing in the vision I had. It is not your quintessential documentary. I do have interviews, but it intercuts with a lot of quirky elements like stand-up comedy, round-table discussions, chat shows, infomercials, game shows, 2D animation, music videos. The message is universal... that strays are like any other pets and they do need a home... more like community adoptions.... but I wanted the takeaway to be local. I am from Bombay and I had to draw the line somewhere... we restricted to Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. There are a couple of people from Delhi and Bangalore, whom I wanted to feature.

How did the shoot go in the middle of a raging pandemic? It must have been challenging...

Salil: It was extremely challenging. I found new strength as a film-maker. Obviously, we followed safety protocols and were a tiny group. At any given time, there were not more than six people. We were all multitasking. There was a looming fear....

Vandana, you must also be an animal lover to come forward and lend your support...

Vandana: First of all, I was lucky to be part of this project. All the hard work has been done by him (Salil). I don’t have a pet, but I feed dogs and believe that the earth belongs to everybody god has created. And the bigger we are, we should be more humble and responsible. Power comes with responsibility.

Samir, tell us about your involvement with the project...

Samir: Salil’s a great dear old friend of mine. In fact, we go back a long way. I did his first film, a student film.... We have been confidants and buddies and know how strongly he feels towards animals. I come from Delhi, where I have always grown up around dogs. Unfortunately, in Bombay, I travel so much that I cannot keep a pet... but one’s heart is always there.

Whenever Salil takes on something, he gives it all his heart. This is a passion project that I know he believes in and I must say kudos to Vandana and the entire team.... It’s got everything in it... a slice of life. I had a great time and learned a lot. I met such wonderful people who work in different animal care groups in the city and just to hear stories of the kind of brutality and cruelty that takes place towards strays, primarily cats and dogs... it goes beyond your worst imagination. And it’s time, like Vandana was saying... we can’t be this dominant force that controls everything and (need to) have a sense of compassion towards all living beings. The film encompasses that.

I have a small farmhouse where I am now thinking of working with some animal shelter groups and adopt some strays and take them there. It doesn’t take much to help and I think the film just shows that.

When you are around animals, say dogs, what does it do to your mood?

Samir: When I am around a dog, I feel like a dog. I bark like them... (laughs). When I was growing up, there were these two German shepherd puppies, my grandad’s dogs. Throughout my growing up years, which is 21 years in Delhi, I’ve been around dogs. We’ve had multiple kinds... strays, pure breeds. Currently, we have Charlie in the house in Delhi who is a mixed breed, an interesting mix between a Bhutia, a mountain dog and an Alsatian. This guy is probably as sly as a fox, about 16 years old, but he seems to be growing younger by the day. I am getting used to cats as well. I have some close friends who have cats.

I feel a sense of joy around animals. My children, more than me, are happy when they are around animals. They keep asking me for one every day. They want to travel to Delhi to go meet their grandparents and be with the dogs.

Salil’s two dogs, these beautiful lovely lads... when I am in his house, I am on the floor, they are on top of me... I like taking them for walks. I think everybody in the world should have a pet... as a buddy, inculcate this habit with kids, grown-ups, older folks....This film showcases that you don’t need to get these pure breeds. My blood boils when I see huskies in Bombay....

St Bernard. The guy on the street will be equally loving.

Vandana, what was an eye-opener for you?

Vandana: All these gated communities have a mandate that you cannot let dogs come in. If we take responsibility of one dog, the job will be done. And, be empathetic.

Salil, how has this film changed your life?

Salil: I didn’t expect this film to be so mammoth... a milestone in my career as well.... I never expected my directorial feature debut to be a documentary, a passion project where I would even have creative veto. What I have genuinely learned from this is our laws in India… in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, the fine is still Rs 50 if you cause injury… also about illegal breeding.

Did you know?

Samir Kochhar rescued a litter of puppies from a cobra! “The cobra had made its way into the ditch where the puppies were... I left my shoot and ran, picked up all 11 of them and took them to my small house I lived in back in the day.... I called a snake catcher and he released it in the jungle... later some of the puppies got adopted,” he said.

Business Enquiry