After two SRFTI (Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute) alumni bagging the National Awards this year, now it’s the blazing arc lights at Cannes for another student. Saurav Rai’s ‘Gudh’ is the only Indian film to be officially selected to compete at the Cannes Cinefondation selection. In fact, that’s the only Indian entry to the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
Despite all the hype over contemporary Bengali films, there has been a serious drought in their presence at the competitive sections of prestigious international film festivals. The last Bengali film to have competed at Cannes was Raka Dutta’s ‘Chinese Whispers’. That was in 2007. Before that, it was Anirban Dutta’s ‘Tetris’ in 2006 and Tridib Poddar’s ‘Khonj’ in 2002. All three directors were from SRFTI.
Rai is the fourth SRFTI student to have bagged this distinction. He is close to the trio and is thrilled with the support his alma mater has given him. Awaiting his convocation on May 2, he is currently soaking in all the adulation of his friends and faculty members. Born in a small village in Mangwa near Kalimpong, Rai was brought up in Kathmandu in 1986. “That’s the year when the Gorkhaland agitation began,” he said. The son of a cardamom businessman, Rai moved to his grandparents’ residence. “It was during vacations that I came to my village. I often had problems co-relating my memories with my surroundings,” the 29-year-old said.
Describing his Kathmandu days, Rai said he was a “naughty and terrible” student. “If I was promoted, it was only as a favour. Finally, my grandfather sent me to a village school. I had to walk down four hours daily to go there. It was as bad as chicken poop. That’s when I understood that things would need to be changed,” he recalled.
A drastic transformation happened when he was in Class VIII. His grades improved. It was during this time he was smitten by the film bug. “Cinema was my escape route,” he confessed.
Little did he then realise that some years later, movies would offer him a ticket to limelight. His Nepali language film – ‘Gudh’ – is based on his childhood memories with his mother in Mangwa. “The political demand for a separate state had affected me. There is a hint of that in my film too. But ‘Gudh’ isn’t a narrative-based film. It has a lot of long shots and surreal elements. I was even told that I had defied the grammar of film-making while making it,” he recalled.
Back in Mangwa, his family members are ecstatic. “My grandfather used to say that as a child, Einstein was a stupid guy. That was to give an assurance to all those who used to write me off because I was very bad student,” he said. Today, Rai wants to thank ‘this 76-year-old man’ for his achievements. “He now wants to offer a goat to treat the villagers!” Rai said with a smile.
However, international acclaim isn’t new to Rai. In 2014, his short film titled ‘Monsoon Rain’ was officially selected at the Munich film festival. Having watched a lot of cinema at SRFTI and during his Munich trip, what is his opinion about Bengali cinema? “I watched Ray and Sen’s classics during my graduation at Darjeeling’s St Joseph College,” he said. From the next generation of directors, he likes Rituparno Ghosh’s movies. “Among contemporary makers, I find Arghya Basu’s works very interesting,” Rai pointed out.
Along with his sound designer Ankita Purkayastha, Rai will be off to Cannes on May 10. Before that, he is writing a script for a feature film that will narrate untold stories and taboos of rural India