It’s not a great year for India at the Cannes Film Festival. Apart from Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 that will premiere at the coveted Director’s Fortnight segment, the only other official entry is 29-year-old Saurav Rai’s short film Gudh (Nest). The Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) graduate’s film is one of the 18 chosen by the Cinefondation Selection to mark its 19th year. It was picked out of 2,300 works submitted by film schools world over.
“It’s a tough question to answer because I know there are great films happening in Maharashtra where people like Umesh Kulkarni and Avinash Arun are making fantastic cinema,” says Rai on the dearth of Indian films at Cannes this year. “Still, I think we need to experiment and be more introspective. I think we need to have that urge to tell stories that are more native. Carlos Reygadas (Mexican filmmaker) makes very passionate and personal films. Even if they (filmmakers like Reygadas) make imaginative cinema, it has a strong root to reality.”
Rai’s film too reflects his own reality. “Gudh is about the childhood memories I shared with my mother during my winter vacations in my native village Mangwa in West Bengal. I was brought up by my grandparents ever since I was 6 months old. So this film is an attempt to come to terms with all the guilt inside me. It’s basically full of memories,” says Rai.
In fact, all of his works are rooted in village culture. In 2014, his film Monsoon Rain (Barkhay Jhari), a film about how cell phone technology triggers infidelity in a remote village in Kalimpong, was selected at the Munich Film Festival. Jhajhalka (Memories), another one of his works, is an experimental film that follows a boy who was brought up by his grandparents and could only visit his mother during his summer vacations. “Jhajhalka (Memories) was just a trailer for Gudh. I like to make films which never let me sleep. I follow that kind of a personal storytelling, where I tend to be honest,” he says.
An interim panel at SRFTI sends around 6-7 student films to the Cinefondation every year. “It worked for me this time,” he says with a giggle. Rai leaves for Cannes with his sound designer Ankita Purkayastha on May 10. “I’m so happy to be nominated in the Cinefondation Selection. George Miller will be there – he’s fantastic,” he says.
On his future as a filmmaker, he says, “I have a lot of ideas in my head that I’m trying to turn into films. I want to tell stories that are never spoken of—stories of village life, stories which have never been told. If not me, then nobody will ever tell these stories.”