Indian Filmmaker Rima Das Talks VILLAGE ROCKSTARS — Interview by Mythily Ramachandran (Exclusive)

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Rima Das 1For the past few months Indian film-maker Rima Das has been living out of suitcases. Her second film ‘Village Rockstars’ premiered at the Toronto Film festival in September, (the only Indian film screened in the competition section) and is now literally travelling places and winning acclaim with the Oxfam Best film On Gender Equality Award at the prestigious MAMI Festival (Mumbai), the Spirit of the Festival Award at Ireland’s Cork Film Festival, the Best Artistic Contribution at the Cairo International Film Festival and three awards at the Olympia International Film Festival (Greece).

“Village Rockstars,” a poignant tale of ten-year-old Dhunu and her dreams of becoming a rock star with her own band is clearly rocking. Das, who hails from Assam (the northeastern state of India), has had no formal training in filmmaking. Nor did she assist anyone before making her first film, “The Man with the Binoculars” (2016). Her story is a testimony to believing in one’s dreams and pursuing them, very much like her young protagonist, Dhunu. Das spoke to AWFJ about her journey into films.

MYTHILY RAMACHANDRAN: How did ‘Village Rockstars’ happen?

RIMA DAS: During the Assamese New Year festival in 2014 I attended a local gathering in my native village. I was shooting my first film and I happened to notice this little girl who was pretending to play on a guitar. I loved the way she was carrying an imaginary instrument. Her energy was remarkable. She was my first inspiration to write this story. I hailed her and the boys she was playing with and told them that I wished to make a film with them. After that, every time I visited my village, the children would ask me about the film. It is their persistence that led to the making of “Village Rockstars.”

RAMACHANDRAN: What is this story about?

DAS: Ten year-old Dhunu, lives with her widowed mother in a remote village of Assam (India). While her mother struggles to make ends meet, Dhunu (a tomboy) dreams of forming a rock band with her boy friends. Her mother raises her with steadfast determination, giving her full freedom of expression and encouraging her to fulfill her dreams. After her father’s death, her mother realizes that it is important that a girl should be qualified herself. But beyond the poverty and nature’s fury when their village is flooded, Dhunu has to combat societal restrictions once she attains puberty. Does Dhunu achieve her simple dream? Or like hundreds of girls in similar situations across the world, will she have to forego her dreams?

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RAMACHANDRAN: You have worked with newcomers. How did you prepare them?

DAS: First I conducted an acting workshop for the children. Then I went about clicking their pictures, quite randomly actually. There was no script then. And, I was working on my first film. In between this work, when time allowed, the writing process began.

RAMACHANDRAN: What decided you to give Dhunu the pivotal role?

DAS: During the workshop, I observed that Bhanita (who plays Dhunu) was a real tomboy-climbing trees with the boys and reminded me of my childhood days.das rockstars poster Why don’t I cast her in the lead role? I wondered. Over six months the story developed. What happens as Dhanu grows older? In an Indian village, society dictates how a woman should behave. Dhunu’s mother however gives Dhunu the freedom and does not restrict her according to societal norms. I like authenticity and I followed a realistic approach to this film. In the course of the three and a half years while we were shooting the film, these kids became my crew and support system. They believed in me and the film.

RAMACHANDRAN: Were there moments when you felt like quitting?

DAS: Of course, there have been frustrating moments. The children are first generation learners. Their parents work as daily wage labourers. Sometimes they would not allow the children to come for shooting. I interacted with them and helped them with their needs.

RAMACHANDRAN: Writing, directing, camera and editing, how did you handle all?

DAS: I really don’t know. It just happened. We shot the film under real conditions- during the rains and floods. Besides, I was shooting this while doing my first film, so there was no fund either. I tapped into my own pocket. My cousin Mallika and the child actors were a great support and motivation.

RAMACHANDRAN: Tell us about your film dreams…

DAS: I arrived in Mumbai aspiring to become an actor. Living in Assam, I knew nothing of World Cinema. But in Mumbai I became exposed to them and slowly I considered directing films rather than acting. What boosted my morale was a short film that I made in 2009 which was officially selected at the Chicago short film festival.

RAMACHANDRAN: What is your debut film, “The Man with a Binoculars,” about?

DAS: It’s the story of Chaudhury, a retired geography teacher whose life changes after his son gifts him a pair of binoculars. das man with bino posterChaudhury always dreamt of travelling the world with his wife but did not have the time nor money. The binoculars gets him hooked and he is always peering into the Nature around, while lamenting over the many boats he missed in life. The seed for this story came to me at a friend’s place, where I noticed a binocular that belonged to his father. It intrigued me. To me the binocular is a metaphor for the bitter reality of human loneliness, struggles, regrets, differences, our constant desire to control others and our surroundings, and our lack of perspective where small things perceived through the binocular of our consciousness makes it excessively large while we ignore the big right in front of us.

About THE FEMALE GAZE Contributor Mythily Ramachandran

mithilyMythily Ramachandran, a Chennai based Indian journalist, is a regular columnist for Gulf News, a leading UAE daily. When this crazy film buff is not catching up with films, she is snooping around for those little-known stories of human interest, which eventually find a place in the Weekend Review of Gulf News.

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