When he was only one-and-half years old, Saurav Rai remembers experiencing an earthquake one day that shook everything around him. His mother, however, is sure there was no earthquake that day. The memory of something that didn’t happen has been haunting Rai ever since his childhood. Now, more than two decades later, the boy from Darjeeling has used memory as a narrative to make his first film. Part of the official selection at the 69th Cannes film festival, Gudh (Nest) by Rai, a graduate of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India in Kolkata, was screened in the Cinefondation section dedicated to film schools around the world. Rai’s diploma film, Gudh is built on his childhood recollection of how he spent his holidays with his parents in Darjeeling. “I was brought up by my grandparents,” says Rai. “As a young boy I had two sets of parents,” he says. Rai lived with his grandparents in Kathmandu until he was 11 years when he was reunited with his parents in Mangwa village, 30 km from Darjeeling. When his film was selected for Cannes, the whole community in Mangwa proudly celebrated the moment. “I am the first boy from Darjeeling to come to Cannes,” beams Rai.
Gudh, which is competing for the best film from 17 other entries from film schools around the world, and The Cinema Travellers, a documentary on travelling cinema, are the only films from India in official selection this year. Independent filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s new film Raman Raqhav 2.0 was screened in the parallel section of the Director’s Fortnight while Memories and My Mother by Aditya Vikram Sengupta is part of the student film projects in the Cannes festival’s Atelier section, which encourages the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers. K Rajagopal, an Indian-origin television series maker from Singapore, arrived with his first feature film, A Yellow Bird starring Seema Biswas, in another parallel Cannes section, Critics Week. Jago Hua Savera, a Pakistani film made in 1958 with Indian participation and later lost, was screened in the Cannes Classics programme for restored cinema. There was no Indian film in the prestigious Cannes competition this year too, 22 years after Malayalam director Shaji N Karun became the last Indian filmmaker to compete for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize.
In fact, an Indian feature film was conspicuous by its absence from the official selection in Cannes this year, after Hindi film Masaan and Punjabi film Chauthi Koot were screened in the Un Certain Regard section that showcases fresh voices in cinema in the world last year. The Cinema Travellers, a 96-minute documentary by first-time directors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, won the applause of the Cannes audience for its originality and aesthetic quality. Following a few travelling theatre, the filmmakers show a tradition that is fast disappearing from the remote Indian villages. “The film is a celebration of going to theatres,” said Abraham, a Bhopal-born filmmaker who lives in Mumbai. It took Abraham and Madheshiya five years to make The Cinema Travellers, an entry for the Camera d’Or prize for a debutant filmmaker in Cannes. Both The Cinema Travellers and the Pakistani film Jago Hua Savera were screened on the same day in the Cannes Classics section. Jago Hua Savera, which was shot in the then east Pakistan, in 1958, featured some of the legends in the sub-continent. Legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz combined with Kolkata-based musician Timir Baran in the film, which also had Indian actor Tripti Mitra.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer