Sounds of Change

She never went to film school but was always enamoured by films. Or the fact that it used a cast of non-professional actors, sourced from the village of Kalardiya in Chaygaon, where it was shot. “Right after people see the movie in festivals around the world, they come to me with tears in their eyes,” says Das, who is in the US for another screening of her movie. The idea of Village Rockstars came to her then, and over the years, she wrote the story as it evolved. In 1987, Jahnu Barua’s Halodia Choraye Baodhan Khaye had won. In Chaygaon, where she grew up, films were something to be watched, not made and definitely not learned. Off late, the industry seems to be going through a slump — but for the occasional gems such as Village Rockstars, or Utpal Borpujari’s Ishu (which won the award for the Best Assamese Film). When she was shooting for her first film in Assam, Man With Binoculars, then also a one-woman-army, she came across a group of children in Chaygaon, performing on stage at a Bihu function, with a guitar-shaped cardboard cut-out. Or maybe, simply because of what it is about: 10-year-old Dhunu, who dreams of forming her own rock band, and goes in search of an electric guitar. And yet, Das, who trained herself from videos off the internet, moved to Mumbai in 2003, to make something of her dream. Das believes that focusing on stories closer home is the key. “It’s really great that the jury has recognised a movie that isn’t Bollywood; there is so much more out there,” she says. “We had won several awards at the Mumbai Film Festival last October,” she tries to recall the names of the awards, but fails, and laughs. Das used the children who she saw performing at Chaygaon as her main actors. I actually never had plans for a female lead, nor did I force it. In the six months that followed, it has travelled across the world to no less than 50 film festivals. There, her exposure to independent world cinema inspired her to start making films. Probably, the fact that it developed organically over four years, was shot on a handheld camera, by a woman who has had no formal training in films. It created a ripple back then itself. “Bhanita shaped the movie. It’s only been a few hours since the 65th National Awards were announced, and she is trying to recollect the trajectory of her small film, shot in a sleepy corner of Assam. “They literally learned how to act under open skies,” says Das. For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App “The children were growing up in poverty, but they knew how to celebrate life,” she says. It’s been almost 30 years since an Assamese film won the Best Film at the National Awards. Village Rockstars, awarded the Best Film at the 65th National Awards, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017, and was then screened at the Mumbai Film Festival the next month. Director Rima Das
What made this Assamese movie, shot on a shoestring budget, in a language people often club as “no different from Bengali”, such a tremendous success? A tomboy — and the daughter of a school teacher — Das spent most of her childhood scaling trees and playing truant with the village boys. Related News
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Updated: April 17, 2018 12:07:11 am

A working still of Village Rockstars. Das beautifully weaves a narrative around this storyline, while also touching upon other issues only relatable to in rural India — the ravages of flood, untimely death, forgotten promises and shattered dreams. At the latter, it won the Golden Gateway Award for Best Film, and a congratulatory tweet from almost every film critic who watched it. And it was under these skies that Das also grew up.