Film-maker Rima Das’ film Village Rockstars is India’s official entry to the Oscars 2019
The film, set in Assam, took 3 long years to finish
Self-taught film-maker Rima Das grew up in Chaygaon, a small village on the outskirts of Guwahati. In 2014, while putting the final touches to her first feature film, Man With The Binoculars, she came across a group of children playing with toy musical instruments — running around and play-acting like they were part of a band. The scene stayed with her, and eventually inspired her second feature film, Village Rockstars, premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to a packed house, and was the only Indian film in the Discovery section, which picks directors to watch out for — the ones that TIFF calls “the future of world cinema”. It tells the story of 10-year-old Dhunu, a free-spirited girl, who does not see why she can’t be like her friends — a group of boys who want to start their own rock band. Her nonconformist mother agrees and encourages her to pursue her dream, in the face of the forces of patriarchy that predictably begin to stack up against her as she comes of age.
Now, comes word that the film, which won Best Feature film Award at the 65th National Film Awards earlier this year, is India’s official entry to the 2019 Oscars.
Das says making the film turned out to be a way to revisit her own childhood. “I used to be like Dhunu, climbing trees and swimming. The story may be fictional, but I grew up in the same environment, which made it easier for me to connect with the children. I drew from it to build the story.”
It took three arduous years to finish the film. Assam in summer is brutal: power cuts, intermittent rain and working around the children’s school schedules were all challenging, but Das kept her head up and focused on the prize. “It’s times like these that taught me to believe in myself,” she says. “I had to be brave and patient. Not only for myself, but for my team too.”
Getting to work with children was especially rewarding for her. “Kids bring an amazing sense of honesty and great energy to everything they do.” And though she wouldn’t have changed the setting, despite all the roadblocks rural Assam presented her with, Das insists this is a story that is true for everywhere. “Perhaps the landscape would have been different if it was shot in Mumbai or Delhi, but not the central story. Because dreams can be achieved anywhere.”