Saurav Rai’s 2019 film ”Invitation” featured a child protagonist and once again the filmmaker centers a film on a young person.
Rai’s “Guras,” a Nepali and Hindi-language film, is a work-in-progress selection at the Hong Kong — Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF). It follows 9-year-old Guras, who lives in a mountain village in India’s Darjeeling district. Her pet dog goes missing and she embarks on a journey that soon turns mystical as she meets otherworldly beings along the way.
“I always had this fascination with my grandma’s real-life incident during her childhood when she stole someone’s vegetables from their garden. She ended up having chest pain after that and when her mother figured it out, she took her to the owner of the farmland. The owner immediately knew what had happened, so she smiled and prayed to her ancestors and relieved my grandma of the pain,” Rai says.
“I have always loved the realm of existence where it is difficult to dissect between what is real and the hyperreal. The world is filled with such incidents that are beyond our comprehension. Our folklores and local mythologies are intertwined with our lives. ‘Guras’ is thus my experimentation with this very layer of a hyperreal realm infused with strong memory of my childhood, branching out wider into imagination,” Rai adds.
The word guras in the Nepali language translates to wild orchid.
Rai is an alumnus of India’s Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute and his diploma film, “Nest” (2016), was an official selection at the 69th Cannes Cinefondation. His debut feature, “Invitation,” premiered at Rotterdam and won the grand jury prize at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in 2019. As a part of the HAF’s work-in-progress section, “Invitation” was also selected as an HAF Goes to Cannes project. “Guras” received Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund for project development in 2021.
The companies backing “Guras” include Sanjay Gulati’s Indian outfit Crawling Angel Films, which has credits including 2020 Berlinale selection “The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs” and upcoming buzz title “Girls Will be Girls”; Ram Krishna Pokharel’s Nepal-based Icefall Prods. produced Berlin selection and Busan winner “The Red Phallus” (2018); Neonate Audio (2022 Busan and Palm Springs selection “Max, Min and Meowzaki”); and LowIQ Production.
Gulati, who also produced “Invitation,” says: “I was highly satisfied with my first collaboration with Saurav so it was my wish to become part of whatever he will do next, which is ‘Guras.’”
Pokharel adds: “We developed a very good relationship with Saurav and Sanjay in recent years. Saurav is a brave auteur making films in the Nepali language being in a country like India. I like working on films which come from personal experience of the writer-directors. We also like exploring the spiritual side of our life in our films and ‘Guras’ was a perfect fit. I got more space for collaborations when Saurav mentioned he wanted to work with actors from Nepal.”
“Guras,” which is currently in post, is budgeted at $285,000 of which $175,000 has been secured. The focus of the producers at FilMart is to meet with festival programmers, sales agents and distributors and with co-producers and post houses for collaborating on the final stage of post-production of the film. Discussions are already ongoing with distributors in India and Nepal.
Next up for Rai is a change of direction. “After ‘Invitation’ and ‘Guras,’ I’m now shifting my space from the rural landscape to an urban setup. I feel it is the context of the engagement which actually guides me to a particular direction,” Rai says. “Unlike my previous attempt with the themes surrounding children, now I am delving into a darker zone, where our [young] characters will be the driving force, yet it will be adults this time who will be under my observation.” He adds that his characters will be more relataable to a wider audience, not limited to “a particular community or a language. Similarly, it also means I will be experimenting with relatable faces to lend an added sense of credibility to the world that we will be creating,” Rai added.
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