Saurav Rai’s new film Guras, in which the disappearance of a dog assumes significance, has its roots in the actual disappearance of a pet.
That canine, named Tinkle, featured in Rai’s Nepali-language feature debut Nimtoh (Invitation, 2019). Rai’s beguiling first film revolved around a young boy determined to snag an invitation to a wedding in his employer’s family. Guras also revolves around a stubborn child who won’t stop until she gets what she wants – in this case, to reclaim her missing dog, also called Tinkle.
The trigger for Guras – the name of the young girl – was the disappearance of the Rai family’s pet dog Tinkle several months ago. Rai’s distraught mother hunted tirelessly for Tinkle until she turned up a few days later.
Rai, who works out of Mumbai (his wife, Ankita Purkayastha is a leading sound designer there) heard about the Tinkle escapade during a visit to his family village near Darjeeling. His mother’s recounting of the incident meshed with local folklore about spirits that possesses thieves of fruit, a switch from orange to cardamom cultivation that was initially lucrative but eventually loss-making, and talk of Buddhist shamans using children as mediums to solve problems.
All these ideas are present in the 114-minute Guras, which has the elliptical storytelling, long takes and atmospheric landscapes seen in Nimtoh. Guras will be premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival (October 27-November 5).
Guras has previously been screened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July, where it won a jury prize.
In Guras, a seemingly innocent quest assumes metaphysical proportions, in which the past collides with the present, the anxieties of adults are refracted through a child’s worries, and the girl’s imaginary world offers a refuge from the vicissitudes of a precarious rural economy. For 37-year-old Rai, Guras was a film that presented itself, rather than being planned.
In the period between Nimtoh and Guras, the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India-trained director had been working on a few ideas, including revisiting a script written much before Nimtoh.
“After my short films and Nimtoh, I didn’t want to have anything to do with kids,” he told Scroll. “But it wasn’t for me to choose – the story chose me. I wanted a more mainstream storyline. Then I saw my mother’s plight. Like a kid, I spontaneously decided to go and shoot.”
Although the film could have been treated in several different ways, Rai chose a slow-burning, non-linear narrative with lashings of magic realism. As Guras hunts high and low for Tinkle, she has experiences that challenge conventionally rational beliefs.
The film was shot in May last year. Apart from non-professionals, including Tulsi Khawas as Guras, the cast includes established Nepali actors Menuka Pradhan and Khagendra Lamichhane as Guras’s parents. Pravesh Gurung, the boy from Nimtoh, plays a Buddhist monk who is among the people encountered by Guras.
The dog in the film was played by Maiyya, a canine supplied by an animal trainer. “Tinkle was very smart, but no dog could match her,” Rai said. at the Busan International Festival, where Guras was also screened, there were queries about what happened to the dog. “I told them, don’t worry, the dog is safe,” Rai said.