India’s Official Entry to the Oscars : Read How Rima Das’s sheer passion and love for cinema took Village Rockstars to the Oscars

by parineeti lal

Picture a good-looking soft spoken lady who speaks with a nice tonal quality while she takes questions from her interviewers with a natural disarming style. That is Rima Das, the director of Village Rockstars.

Non-assuming, generally delighted, her demeanour on getting a pleasant shock with the news that Village Rockstars is the Indian Official Entry for the 91st Academy Awards or Oscars on Feb.24th, 2019 was of being caught by surprise. She had made her effort, but had no such expectations of something like this to happen.

But let us go back to the place from where it all started.

Assam is a small state of the North East, where people toil like in the other parts of India. In its small villages and towns, education has a big place and a teacher’s job is both respected and coveted. Rima Das is from Kalardiya, near Chhaygaon, 50 Km. from Guwahati. Being the daughter of a teacher, she developed an interest in studies and did well to complete her Master’s in Sociology from Pune University.  Clearing the National Eligibility Test was but the next step.

But for one whose desire lay in acting right since doing plays at school, she landed in Mumbai in 2003. She acted in a few plays that included the famous ‘Godaan’ of Munshi Premchand, that was staged at the popular Prithvi Theatre. Her mind went towards creating something of her own and watched movies directed by the world greats like Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, Majid Majidi.

Nothing is easy at the start. She ventured with her first short film Pratha in 2009. Following up with two more after Pratha, she realized that the applauding and bouquets that should have come if her films were really good, never did come. In 2013, when by chance a colleague mentioned about the binoculars that he had purchased for his retired father in the village, it struck her like brainwave, ‘here was the theme for her next movie’. A father obsessed with an object that makes him discover the world anew, ‘Binoculars’ it would be then. She immediately began her first feature film Antardrishti (Man with the Binoculars), shot with a Canon DSLR camera in Kalardiya, in 2013.

The movie got complete in 2016. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Mumbai Film Festival and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia that year. Ms. Das, the self-taught filmmaker had arrived. She became a one-woman crew, writing, directing, producing, editing and shooting the film, besides handling art direction and costume designing. The movie got her some credit as a serious film maker who knows her stuff. She had shot it in her village and during the course of the shooting, got the idea for her next movie – Village Rockstars.

Village Rockstars – the movie that has rocked India and other world audiences so far

During the shooting of ‘Antardrishti’ Rima Das looked at her own village with new eyes and began to love what she saw. She decided to shoot her next movie against the same backdrop. She had met some of the children while shooting for Antardrishti, and saw how they were playing make-believe instruments in all-seriousness with music coming from an audio player. The theme of Village Rockstars took root.

The entire film took three years to conceptualize and plan and another 150 days to shoot, with almost the same cast from the earlier film Antardrishti. Seeing the children relate to the music and passion glowing in their faces, she being passionate herself about what she loved and did, Village Rockstars was herself lived through the children of the film. The first North Eastern film selected for the Toronto International Film Festival and the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain in 2017, it achieved phenomenal success.

The theme of Village Rockstars

The storyline goes like this. 10-year-old girl Dhunu, who lives with her widowed mother and elder brother sees a hard life in her village Chaygaon in Assam. Once when helping her mother with the selling of snacks at a local event, sees a band performing with musical instruments made of styrofoam and gets mesmerized. Not having the means she can only fantasize her passion. Immediately she dreams of owning her own rock band one day and tries to live her dream by searching for a guitar in her village. She even carves out a guitar from some material as her make-believe instrument. She also wants to get the real thing and starts saving rupee by rupee for it.

While she is building up on her dream, floods create havoc in her village by destroying the family’s crops. Will she keep her money that she has saved till now aside or help in the family’s need? The rest of the movie revolves around it; nurturing hope with the deep desire to become self- reliant. The movie is in the Kamrupi dialect of the Assamese language. Written, produced, edited, designed and put together by Rima Das and helped by her cousin Bhanita who also acts in the film, this movie has the makings of a  film different from the run-of-the-mill types.

The Unique positioning of Village Rockstars

Village Rockstars has some unusual things to its credit.

  • Rima Das is a self-taught director who has learnt the craft on her own by studying the films on great directors of cinema. Pleasantly shocking is the fact that she has made this feature film on her own with help from her cousin sister Bhanita who has also acted in it. Besides being its director she is also the screenwriter, executive producer, editor, production designer and cinematographer.

  • The kids who have featured in the movie are by no means professional but just followed their own instincts and urges guided ably by Rima Das, she being the director and knowing what was needed.
  • The script of Village Rockstars needed three and a half years till Rima was satisfied; shooting finished in less than three months. This feature film was shot on a handheld camera and has used a cast of non-actors, sourced almost wholly from the village of Kalardiya in Assam’s Chayagaon. That shows the dedication and level of passion Rima has for perfectness.

  • The female protagonist Bhanita Das has been awarded a National award for this film.
  • ‘Village Rockstars’ is the second Assamese feature film to win the National Award. The first one was ‘Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai’ by Jahnu Barua, which bagged the award 29 years ago.

  • ‘Village Rockstars’ is India’s official nomination for the 2018 Academy Awards. 29 films – including blockbusters like Raazi, Padmaavat, Hichki, October, Love Sonia, Gulabjaam, Mahanati, Pihu, Kadvi Hawa, Bhogda, Revaa, Bioscopewala, Manto, 102 Not out, Padman, Bhayanakam, Ajji, Nude, Gali Guliiyan – were considered.
  • It is a huge honour for Rima Das, unassuming and matter-of-fact that she is, she never harboured extraordinary expectations. She realistically assumed it could do well but not that it would go this far. When she heard the news when visiting her village she said “It is a big deal because when you don’t receive recognition, you feel things are not possible. It stops people from trying. Such news makes me feel that things are possible.”

  • In 2017, ‘Village Rockstars’ was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. The natural elements in the movie – like the unseen locations, an authentic cast, and organic story-telling helped the movie win critical appreciation nationally and internationally.
  • And of course at the 65th National Film Awards in New Delhi on 13th April 2018, it bagged the awards – Swarna Kamal for the Best Feature Film, Best Child Artist, Best Location Sound Recordist and Best Editing. And now having been to very many International Film Festivals it shall represent India at the Oscars.

  • The 12-member selection committee of the Film Federation of India, headed by Kannada producer and director Rajendra Babu and the verdict was unanimous. As per the jury verdict it has tremendous potential for doing well at the Oscars because as per the Academy guidelines and the study of the past winners being studied the three points generally focused on are : the film entry must have its roots in the host country, it must relate to its audience through its crafted narration by way of picturisation and it must considering that it is a foreign entry film have the element that must appeal to the members of the jury as something powerful and different amongst all the other entries in that category.

February 24th, 2019 is the day Rima Das and team and the whole of India behind her giving their support, shall expect the miracle to happen – An Indian Oscar winning movie. Till then fingers remain crossed hoping for the best.

For us at Unnati Silks and the Rest of India, for the remarkable things that Rima Das has achieved, She’s definitely a winner. Because truly She’s Different!

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