In the first few moments of Pariah Dog, on the streets in the slums of Kolkata, India, you meet the main characters: India’s pariah dogs. A lone canine looks down an alley where electric wires crisscross overhead and beaten, and battered edifices are everywhere. Rats converge on an abandoned cart of garbage and another dog howls. He is covered in scars as he has seen some fights in his day. Others howl back, and a random gathering of yappy dogs assemble. They bark and yelp to one another, show their battle wounds of survival, and defend their territories. It is their story that is told through the daily lives of four people, who live in a disconnected universe but share a common love of the pariah dogs.
Everything and anything is happening in Kolkata, a city of almost 15 million people. Poverty, filth, modern life, and India all come together every minute in this insanity and as you try to distinguish each person, place, dog, street, sign, garbage dump, and the glowing neon string of lights—which are everywhere—you realize there’s a story in it all, in fact, many. Through the lens of filmmaker Jesse Alk, there is poetic justice to this human condition, which he discovers while following the lives of four individuals: Kajal, Pinku, Milly, and Subrata. Each one’s existence is vital to the delicate balance of living while caring for these animals.
“…we are a voyeur to the street life of Kolkata through the pariah dogs and their caregivers…”
Kajal is dedicated to the care of pariah dogs, those alive as well as the ones who pass. She lives in a hovel near the graves of the dogs she has looked after. Pinku, an artist with a pet monkey, hopes to help the animals through the sale of his artwork, which he is tirelessly creating on next to nothing. Milly, who believes her home could have been a dog ashram and appears to have more money than most as well as once a much different life, perhaps has a delusional sense of self, is defiant in her care and love for the dogs. Along with Pinku, they make efforts to save them. And Subrata’s meager life is filled with his continuous efforts to save and care for dogs while trying to elevate in his entertainment status from beyond his appearance on Dadgiri, an Indian television quiz show.
As we are a voyeur to the street life of Kolkata through the pariah dogs and their caregivers, perhaps a bigger mission of Alk’s is at work. He seeks to reveal how the human heart can be dynamic in such a place of intense crowds, filth, and squalor. You can accept the improbable waste of this city and watch how a little boy moves a debilitated puppy with unusable back legs from getting killed on a busy causeway. You’ll cheer on Milly, fighting her neighbors on the humane way to care for animals who can’t care for themselves. Kajal and Subrata will melt your heart, as they somehow survive on nothing but make sure the dogs are fed, and champion dog welfare. We see India through its pollution and crowds, but we see each person and dog too.
The pariah dogs know their caretakers and show their dedication to each of these men and women Alk follows. Their tails wag, they wait patiently among their caretakers and look back to see where they have gone. Whether it’s administering medicine, filling pans with food, breaking up fights, or saving puppies, through the traffic, noise, music, and rickshaw madness, there is good work to be found all around Kolkata. This decaying yet sincere urban jungle, which Alk beautifully portrays through his lush camera work and soundtrack, is the beating heart of Pariah Dogs.
"…they bark and yelp to one another, show their battle wounds of survival..."