A peeved old man goes about his business of selling tea, his donkey in tow carrying his supplies. For much of their journey through a desert in Rajasthan, the man vents his frustration on the voiceless creature. But what happens when the donkey goes missing? Digant Gautam’s 15-minute short film Gadho explores the protagonist’s reaction to losing his only companion.

Produced by Story People, Gadho has been selected in the International Competition section at the 35th Busan International Short Film Festival (April 24-29). “The key emotions I wanted to capture were those of loneliness and companionship,” Gautam said. “In the vast desert of loneliness, the donkey is the only companion for him. It plays out in an interesting manner where he might always sound irritated with the donkey, yet he values him as a companion. I believe the feelings of loneliness and companionship are at the core of human society, and were emotions worth exploring.”

Gautam said that he drew from his own experiences as a child growing up in Haryana, when one of his family’s buffaloes went missing for a few days. “Apart from the emotions of loneliness and companionship juxtaposed in every moment of his life, there is a sense of looking forward in life.” Gautam said. “No matter where you look around, the desert looks the same. The monotony of that space is what I wanted to explore.”

The filmmaker’s preparations included speaking to locals in Barmer, Rajasthan, where the movie was filmed. But the casting posed the biggest challenge. “If I found somebody to my liking, he would be a man from the upper caste who would not be willing to touch a donkey and get into the house of a person from the Bheel community,” said Gautam, referring to the space he had chosen as the old man’s residence in the film. Ganpat Ram Bhaat, also a Barmer resident, finally agreed to play the old man,.

The four-legged co-star in the film was far easier to cast, the filmmaker said. “I think it was like handling any other character on the set,” Gautam said.

Gadho (2018).