There are movies that rely heavily on technical aspects such as visual effects with the use of high-end film equipment to add more visual appeal. Rima Das, writer, editor, co-producer, and director of Village Rockstars, with the help of a Canon 5D camera, made a film that became India’s official entry to the 91st Academy Awards.
Village Rockstars, a movie which many regard as a landmark in Indian indie cinema, narrates the story of Dhunu, living in Kalardiya village in Assam. Dhunu’s world of limited resources, and the way she makes the most of her life only serves as a reminder of our own privileges in life, and resonates with the desires of going back to one’s own roots.
Ten-year-old Dhunu (Bhanita Das) lives with her widowed mother (Basanti Das) and elder brother Manabendra (Manabendra Das) in the director’s home village, Chhaygaon. Dhunu, after witnessing a concert in a village fair, develops a desire to make music. But, given the place she lives in and the hindrances she faces, things are easier said than done. The village folk cannot stand a girl who spends all her time with the boys and prances around the village through rain and shine without a care in the world.
The film moves at its own pace, laying a foundation for the story, as the director, with even her most simple shots, skilfully portrays the world of Dhunu — the hardships she faces on a daily basis. If you prefer films with a more urgently paced narrative, this is not for you.
Dhunu and her friends create cardboard cutout musical instruments — Dhunu’s own fake guitar stands out — and do mock concerts, to prep themselves for the real thing. She shows her brother a comic book about children starting a band of their own, telling him of her aspirations. Her brother tells her it would cost a lot of money.
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Unfortunately, her world isn’t a comic strip. Apart from the societal barriers facing her, even the weather seems to go against her, as her village’s geographical location is prone to many calamities.
But Dhunu soldiers on, determined to achieve her dreams. Seeing a 10-year-old with self-reliance and determination to carry on in the most dire of circumstances, strike a chord in our hearts.
Das’ mastery of her craft is evident from the beautifully captured shots of the Assam landscape, which serve to enhance the tone of the narrative. The audiography by Mallika Das gives us the full picture of the rural Indian landscape. But apart from this, the writing and acting, in itself, are spectacular, with Rima Das telling the story of two strong female characters who are willing to go through the same hardships as men, in order to put food on the table. More than their hardships, it’s their unflinching attitude that moves us.
Now, the film as touching as it is, won’t have the intended effect whilst in the cinema hall. It is only when we step out into the city, urban civilization being the only thing most of us have ever really known our entire lives, that it hits us. The silence of the beautiful Assam landscape as opposed to the never ending din of the big city. The sound of silence is truly beautiful.
What Das shows us is something far removed from the Bollywood mainstream of item songs, action thrillers and romantic dramas. It is a tale of simplicity. A tale about a little girl who overcomes various difficulties in a life outside urban civilization. A tale of hopes, aspirations and unyielding strength and courage.
Village Rockstars goes to prove that passion to narrate a story from the heart alone is enough to make a great film. This film will go down as a landmark for modern indie cinema. If there is one word to epitomize this film, it would be ‘natural’.
It completely justifies its entry in the Best Foreign Film Category to the 91st Academy Awards. One can only hope that films and filmmakers like these can grace the Indian cinematic landscape in the future, and eventually make it to mainstream circles.
Where to Watch: Netflix
By Aditya Sarma
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