The 65th Indian National Film Awards were announced on Friday of last week. What sparked an instant excitement was the fact that the award for Best Feature Film had gone to Village Rockstars, a film from my home state Assam. The film has also bagged awards in the categories for best child artist, best editing, and best location sound recordist.
It is the second directorial venture for thirty-six year-old Rima Das. She made her debut with Man with the Binoculars (Antardristi), which is a story of a retired geography teacher whose life dramatically changes after he is gifted a pair of binoculars. Both films were shot in her native village of Chaygaon.
I am yet to see either of these films. And more than my emotional sentiments associated with Assam, it’s the story of the director’s passion and commitment that tugged at my heartstrings. Rima Das loves acting and cinema from the core of her heart. Having earned prizes in her student life, she tried her luck in acting in Mumbai. Her career did not work out as she planned, so she shifted gears and decided to move to direction.
What deserves admiration is the fact that Rima Das is a self-taught director. She undertook her journey without any mentorship or script doctoring. Rima’s efficient multi-tasking with assistance from her college-going cousin, a rural landscape, a group of inexperienced but sincere actors, and the unfailing dedication that spearheaded it all: these are the strong pillars on which the projects stood. Neither of the two films are interlaced with glitz, glamor, and sophistication. They are moored in the quotidian actualities of simple, village life as Rima looks to her home soil for inspiration.
A rather interesting episode caught Rima’s eyes, and the story of Village Rockstars came to her mind. In a local gathering during the shooting of her first film, Rima saw a batch of kids playing fake musical instruments. And there came the spontaneous idea that she could perhaps make a movie with such a theme. Her constant interaction with the children ignited a deep desire to tell their story which was also the saga of her growing-up in the same ambience. Her creative thoughts blossomed and took the shape of the fictional tale of Dhunu, the protagonist of her film. Filmed under the real conditions of rains and floods, the cast comprises of the village kids who gave their utmost best to their director. Rima describes Village Rockstars as “a celebration of life in a realistic situation”.
It is the tale of Dhunu who lives with her widowed mother and brother in Chaygaon. After having seen a band performing in her village, she dreams of owning her own guitar. She saves every bit so that she can buy it. The dilemma arises when floods strike and destroy the family’s crops. What Dhunu needs to prioritize is the crux of the film.
Village Rockstars premiered at the International Film Festival in Toronto in 2017 and has made its entry into several other prestigious film festivals in India and abroad including the Cairo Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival. Accolades are pouring in, and close on the heels of the Indian National Film Awards was the 16th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles where it was also adjudged the best feature film by the Grand Jury.
Awards constitute one segment of a renowned film. It’s the part that is visible in the director’s resume highlighting his or her credentials. But what bypasses every prize and recognition and looms large is the director’s meticulous and painstaking effort throughout the entire journey. To just love cinema is one thing; to single-handedly work on one’s thoughts and ideas to see their fruition into a beautiful work of art is another. It requires creativity and versatility, not to forget an unflinching attitude to face hurdles on the rocky path.
Rima Das is confidence, determination, and persistence personified in a delicately blended mould. She had the odds on her side: a shoestring budget, untrained actors, and the herculean task of having to master the intricacies and technicalities of filmmaking as she took on the multidimensional roles of writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer, and art director all by herself. And yet overcoming all, she has reached the pinnacle of success.
Life is fraught with challenges, and only by submerging one’s self into the sea of complexities can an individual realize his or her potential. A quote from T.S. Eliot muses, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” Rima Das is one such living testimony to this fact.
A young woman from a small town on the southern banks of the river Brahmaputra, Rima Das takes her strides to fulfill her dream and climbs onto the international platform. From the bylanes of Chaygaon emerges a gifted artist who makes her impressive mark on the global highway. To believe in and to be true to one’s self is Rima’s message to young filmmakers of her region.
Every human being has the liberty to be a dreamer. One should not give up because no matter how dark the road might seem, there is light at the end of every tunnel. And relentlessly pursuing one’s goals helps to weave one’s dream into reality. As Rima moves ahead with her third movie of a teenaged love story, down the line, it is hoped that she continues to create the magic once again and be the pride of Assam, of India, and certainly of womanhood.