There is an air of serenity and quiet, sounds of the ocean wafting through while Zen and Boogie sit by their mistress’ side and soak it all in. Lyle Michael steps into Zoya Akhtar’s house and gets a sneak peek into the pet mama’s life, a world apart

When one has a dog, one’s soul is awakened… for Zoya Akhtar, screenwriter and director, it holds true twice over. For Zen, her five-year-old Beagle and Boogie, her three-year-old Beagle (lovingly nicknamed Tughlaq) are the source of her peace and joy in life, and calm her down immensely. As we talk dogs and movies, Zoya and the boys set us at ease and you realise what ‘coming home to’ means, especially for one who stays away for as long as Zoya does at times, at a stretch; and hence, looks forward to Beagle time with glee.

For a fact, we know how the gamut of dog lovers/pet parents the country over has grown manifold and it never ceases to bring a smile to our faces each time we know of another one in the fray. Zoya mentions director and close pal Reema Kagti as one such, another Beagle mum. And with her own two, it makes quite a sight to see the trio strolling down Bandstand, their ears flapping in the breeze and canine camaraderie playing itself out with the dogs on the street. Then of course, you have the star brother, Farhan Akhtar who lives close by with his family, inclusive of Bonnie and Bella, the two furry ones who he adopted from Zoya’s home to his.

Safe to say the dog-loving gene runs in the family, as former child prodigy – along with her sister Daisy –  Honey Irani was the one who brought little Zen home one fine day. “When I was filming Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD), mum got Zen home and as you know, he came to be the inspiration for Pluto in Dil Dhadakne Do, the loving Bull Mastiff of the Mehra family (voiced by none other than pet parent Aamir Khan) who emerged one of the biggest stars of the cast and helped boost the breed as a must-have family member. Zen, my eager little darling, so observant, a philosopher, true to his name; it’s like he is constantly watching us and it’s funny to imagine what he thinks,” shares Zoya while Boogie nudges her as if to remind her it’s his turn next. “Boogie is the playful one, who wakes up instantly at the mere sound of food being plated or rustled up. He is very alert and affectionate, too. He will go out and do his business, but Zen cannot wait, door open or not, to pee. For the record, Beagles are not very obedient but they are very loyal and adorable.” Sure are, Zoya, Zen and Boogie sitting back on the carpet in her vast minimalist, living room – with the perfect backyard for the dogs to run around or laze in – is an endearing sight.

There are times when the two boys fight it out, boys will be boys after all, but most times, it’s brotherly love with the younger running circles around the elder one. They are early risers, we are told, and enjoy sleep time, pretty much a constant through the day. Oh and they love their platter of cheese. Who doesn’t, right! While it’s a healthy diet daily, of rice with meat, vegetables – carrots their favourite – all home-cooked, occasional treats are doled out. Laughs Zoya, “Oh, these are gourmet dogs who are spoilt with the best ham from Spain – premium fare ‘gone to the dogs’ – a variety of meats in their diet and boiled eggs. For Christmas, it’s marrow bones!” A Merry Christmas, indeed! We can only imagine what birthdays for the Beagles would be like, Zen’s on 24th February and Boogie’s on 6th June!

For the filmmaker who is out for a long duration when working on her inspiration then, quality time with her boys is hard to come by but Zoya seems to find the balance and when she’s home, it’s spending sufficient time with them that matters. Playing with them, walking them – rather them walking her – keeping them free at home to do their own thing and even letting them cozy up with her for a good night’s rest. Grooming, bathing are all activities they can enjoy in the comfort of their home, in their space of solace and familiarity. “I only send Boogie for therapeutic swimming outside as he has hip dysplasia and boy, does he love it. He’s a star there, loves to float; a water baby. Zen is more of a home buddy. An incident comes to mind when  I tried to get him mated and he, being the affectionate soul he is, was so disturbed when the female was tied for certain reasons,” recalls Zoya. It is nothing short of a learning curve with kids – human or animal – isn’t it!

Sure is, agrees Zoya as she goes on to enunciate the values of pet parenting and the immense joy that comes with it. Hence, you will see her urge those who want to get home a pet that you adopt only if you are aware of and capable of carrying out the responsibilities that come with it, a lot of TLC is required! With Pluto in Dil Dhadakne Do, she wanted the message to get across that pets are very much members of the family and shouldn’t be treated any other way.  And there’s much you can do through the medium of cinema, as is evident with Zoya’s concise body of work thus far. She elaborates, “I wanted to be a filmmaker since my teenage years. Movies that were being churned out then were really not up to the mark, until I watched Meera Nair’s Salaam Bombay. I was inspired. Today, I strive to make films based on stories that appeal to me, motivate me. Like my next, a gritty one on our beloved city of Bombay.” That and an animated one – in the creative factory of Zoya’s mind right now – with all the dogs on Bandstand featured, are what her fans can look forward to, dog lovers,
all the more so.

For yes, there should be a lot more animal-centric movies in Bollywood; who wouldn’t take to another Hachiko or Beethoven, we say! Absolutely, nods Zoya – the St. Xavier’s College graduate who went on to pursue a diploma in filmmaking from NYU and debuted with the critically acclaimed Luck By Chance (2009) – and informs us she is working out now (staying in shape is important for everybody) some yoga, some exercises and some doggy love, all what the doctor ordered!

This cover story was published in Dogs & More Magazine, Nov-Dec 2015; used here with permission from the publisher
Photo courtesy: Dogs & More Magazine