Desperate times call for desperate measures, as Nishil Sheth’s directorial debut Bhasmasur, set in a village in Rajasthan proves.

Tipu is an expressive eight-year-old boy who is deeply attached to his donkey Bhasmasur. When his estranged father (Imran Rasheed) wants to sell the donkey to scramble for money, Tipu reluctantly sets out on a trip to the city along with Bhasmasur. “I read an article about the plight of farmers in Rajasthan and the things they are forced to sell for grains,” Sheth said. “Being from a metropolis like Bangalore, I couldn’t wrap my head around such instances.”

The 74-minute film will be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival (October 12-18) under the India Story category.

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Bhasmasur (2017).

Sheth was a direction student at the Whistling Woods International in Mumbai when he got dreamt up Bhasmasur. The feature is loosely based on a three-minute short film Sheth made at film school in 2013. “Once I graduated, I decided to make it into a huger, better film,” Sheth said. Shot over a period of 20-25 days in Rajasthan, the independent film’s crew comprises the filmmaker’s friends from Whistling Woods International.

The donkey gives several of the other actors a run for their money in the movie. “At the writing stage, the character of the donkey came in a little later,” Sheth explained. “There were no chips to be thrown to lure the kid into going to the city. It began at a very functional level. We also made the kid spend a lot of time with the donkey because we wanted the scenes to look organic. A donkey is also not a pet that you would generally want. It was to show the kind of economic state that the family was in.”

Bhasmasur (2017).
Bhasmasur (2017).

Mittal Chouhan, a non-actor, was chosen out of several local school children to play Tipu. “This kid stood out because even when he wouldn’t say anything, there would be a lot going on on his face, in front of the camera,” Sheth said. “All those scenes where the kid is walking or playing with the donkey, we understood that they wouldn’t work as directed scenes. But as soon as we were away, the kid would take his time and start playing with the donkey. It came out so organically that eventually, it also did work for the camera.”

Working with an animal on set naturally came with its own share of challenges. Apart from the donkey’s tendency to try and flee the shoot, the team found it difficult to even find the animal in the first place.

“I don’t know why but when we wrote the script, we wrote Bhasmasur’s character like he was a dog,” Sheth said. “We just took it for granted. We first worked with a few wild donkeys because of which the cinematographer hurt himself in the process. We then got the donkey from an animal controller.”