Saurav Rai’s Guras opens with a long shot. It is late in the night; a man has gotten down from a car and stopped on a bridge. The driver asks him why he got down on that remote spot. The man does not answer. The car wheezes off. We are made to linger with the scene. He watches the water under the bridge. Rai doesn’t cut away but compels us to consider the gravity with which the moment builds. At the screening I attended at the Dharamshala Film Festival, there was a palpable restlessness in the audience at the drawn-out tendency of the very opening scene. Rai immediately cues us as to how we must prepare for the film as it unfolds. It is a brave choice that insists on your attention. The deliberate disquiet evoked is instantly inviting.

Guras follows the titular nine-year-old protagonist (Tulsi Khawas, an absolute delight) amidst the tea valleys close to Darjeeling. Although Rai begins with a jolt of intensity, the film packs in oodles of humor. Rai particularly etches the classroom scenes with Guras with hilarity and authenticity. The director has a talent for spotting the ribbing and teasing among kids. Notice how he captures the kids in the classroom doing peekaboo and their own private mischief, tucked away from the glare of their teacher droning a poem. There is a memorable moment when Guras reads out an essay entirely improvised on the go when asked for her homework. Rai understands the free spirit of children and their boundless inclination to discovery and curiosity. Guras is bursting for adventure, never afraid of venturing out for something or someone she loves.

While the sense of ennui is delightfully tapped, Rai’s screenplay skates over a larger perspective as it tries to wade into darker territory. Though the film crucially sticks close to the young girl and her escapades, her world is always kept, in an important, thoughtful move, tightly connected to those of her parents and their financial straits. But Rai does not fare well with creating full-bodied adult characters. Guras’ father’s  (Khagendra Lamichhane) cardamom trade is in a slump.

He is morose and uncommunicative, someone who’d rather take their anger out on another who cares for them. Guras’s mother  (Menuka Pradhan) requests him to be optimistic. He shuts himself off, sinking into quiet, repressed despair. The mother is patient, persevering, and endlessly supportive. She does not have any other way out. Rai is interested in the interaction between the needs of parents and the desires of children. One is enmeshed in the other.

Guras (2023)
A still from Saurav Rai’s ‘Guras’ (2023)

The central tension of Guras is set into motion with the disappearance of the girl’s dog, Tinkle. Guras starts skipping school and wandering out into the depths of the winding tea valleys. Early on, we are told that there is a leopard on the prowl, but Rai refreshingly does not press this point further, choosing instead to explore the peripheries between the real and the surreal, the mundane and the spiritual. A shaman is said to be touring the village, who mysteriously starts appearing in Guras’s dreams. It is a recurring image of the shaman, mist curling all around him.

Ankita Purkayastha’s sound design interposes these fracturing moments with booming, enveloping effects. While it is effective initially, it diffuses eventually as the screenplay rambles in circles, not adding to either characterization or thematic undercurrents. While the film’s early rhythm is gentle with its unhurriedness appealing, the narrative slips into a sluggish mode as the writing contends with ambiguous linkages between the elevated and the everyday. Guras suspects her dog to have been taken by someone from the neighboring village. Her father is mostly irate, and her mother is anguished. The character-building reveals itself as stodgy and plodding after Rai has done away with the introductions. There’s no dimensionality, just one angle through which we are allowed to view and engage with these characters.

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Guras may not have needed dramatic urgency, but the conviction to peel the consciousness away, threading in visions and more than a touch of the otherworldly, doesn’t come together in the very writing itself. It seems content with flickers and sparks but not the entirety of encompassing the journey at its heart. While the protagonist is mostly sure and firm on what she has her gaze set on, the film does not bestow her any growth but rather inflicts a strangely ordained realization that does not enhance a sustained, continual understanding of the character.

The hypnotic allure also only works in bits and starts. As the film winds up, the ideas get increasingly slim, meandering wildly. There’s little we feel for the characters other than the protagonist since the manner in which they are situated; their anxieties accentuated, is determinedly unfocused. Guras left me wishing it had just focused on the girl; in straddling the interwoven two worlds of childhood and parenthood while collapsing boundaries of consciousness, the film loses its bearing.


Guras screened at the Dharamshala International Film Festival 2023.

Guras (2023) Movie Information:

External Links: IMDb, MUBI

Writer & Director: Saurav Rai

Cast: Tulsi Khawas, Khaghendra Lamichhane, Aditya Khwas, and Menuka Pradhan.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy | Runtime: 1h 54m

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