Assamese filmmaker Rima Das, whose debut film was screened at Cannes and the Mumbai Film Festival last year, has already found similar success with her second production.
The film has already won a couple of honors, securing the White Light Post Production Award and the Hong Kong Movies On Show In Cannes. It will be one of the four films selected to feature at the Cannes Film Festival, which celebrates its 70th birthday, from May 17 to 28 this year.
But more accolades are on the way. Village Rockstars, set in Assam, is among finalists in the Work in Progress Lab competition in Hong Kong this week.
The Work in Progress Lab aims at helping filmmakers secure post-production funding, sales agents and film festival support, under the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival.
In many ways, Village Rockstars reflects Das’s own story as a filmmaker.
The lead character is a 10-year-old girl named Dhunu who dreams of owning a guitar and forming a band, the Rockstars, with a group of local boys. Dhunu, however, has to fight gender stereotypes on what a local girl should do amid poverty and other hostile conditions.
“She [Dhunu] considers herself as capable as boys in a patriarchial society. She was brought up by a non-conformist mother who gave her full freedom of expression,” said Das.
Das, now living in Mumbai, grew up in the same village as the character Dhunu and became inspired to make a film about the children in the village after her trips back to her hometown.
“I was shooting Man with the Binoculars, which was my first feature film, and I discovered these children and villagers celebrating life [while] living in deprivation. It made me realize what I was missing in Mumbai even surrounded with all this technology,” said Das in an interview with Asia Times.
“The way they are living their lives make them rockstars. They are the real rockstars to me,” she said.
Beneath Das’ soft-spoken appearance, the self-taught filmmaker has a steely determination to her craft in many ways similar to Dhunu’s dream of owning a guitar.
Before moving to Mumbai in 2007, she had not been exposed to world cinema, she said. Two years later, she made her first short film, Pratha, which was selected for the 2009 Chicago Short Film Festival. She now counts Satyajit Ray, Abbas Kiarostami and Wong Kar-wai among her favorite directors.
Like Dhunu, girls in the village where Das is from face a lot of restrictions due to their gender once puberty occurs.
“Once menstruation happens at the age of 11 or 12 girls become very restricted. They have a lot of things they can’t do which they were allowed to before, like boys. They cannot even climb trees. But it’s all societal and familial pressure – it’s basically the same person, right?” said Das with a tinge of anguish.
Village Rockstars was shot, directed and produced by Das with the help of a cousin and young actors from the village, and without any help from professionals. Even the sound, she said, she had to record on her own, and she used mostly natural lighting due to the lack of a lighting crew.
The rough cut has already “gathered interest,” according to Das, and she hopes to collaborate with more countries to feature her film in international markets.
“People from different parts of the world can relate to the subjects in Village Rockstars because the emotions you experience are the same. That is why I want to work with international partners. It’s been a difficult journey, but I’m happy with the results so far,” she said.