At a time when the Assamese cinema industry is fighting for its survival, independent films are showing a way-forward. For the first time, an Assamese film – Village Rockstars – has been selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars, paving way for many filmmakers to aim for similar success.
For a self-taught filmmaker like Rima Das, it is never easy to make a movie of such calibre. It just shows that cinema is not a dying art, as someone can think watching the budget-heavy movies.
Village Rockstars is based on a true story of Das’s native village Chhaygaon. Village Rockstars tells the story of a 10-year-old poor village girl who dreams to own a guitar and forms a rock band with her friends while her widowed mother struggles to fulfil her wish.
Commenting on the kind of independent cinema on offer, and the success of Village Rockstars, National Award-winning film critic and journalist-turned-filmmaker Utpal Borpujari said that Village Rockstars is unique for Assam because of its cast, crew and the treatment. “Cinematically speaking on a global perspective, Village Rockstars is not a unique film, as there have been many films in many parts of the world that have been made by small, non-professional crews and non-professional actors in a realistic format. But in the context of Assamese cinema, it is unique precisely for that reason. Here, Rima Das handles almost every behind-the-camera department herself, as we all know. Also her actors, barring the veteran Kulada Kumar Bhattacharjee, were all non-professional actors from her own village Kalardiya in Chaygaon. Since she herself produced the film and filmed it with her own camera, she had the advantage of being able to shoot the film over a long period suiting the schedules of the children and her. That gave her ample time to shoot the film in a visually-appealing way across seasons as required by the narrative. It is a fine example of how a perfectly cinematic film can be made with low budgets if the vision of the director is right.”
Speaking about the challenges, Borpujari said that for an independent filmmaker, the biggest challenge is to manage funds. “The rest just fall into place provided the filmmaker has a creative vision,” he said adding that the next big challenge is to take the final output to the viewers.
“Once the film is made, the challenge is to take it to the viewers – as it’s really tough in India (and all over the world too), to find theatrical space for an independent film. Of course, now there are other avenues to take a film to viewers, such as the various online streaming platforms, but even then, it’s quite a challenge to find a distributor. It’s heartening that people in Assam came out in big numbers to watch Village Rockstars in theatres on its release. But I feel it’s an exception rather than a rule, as the film released after its nomination as India’s entry to the Oscars. The film enjoyed the right kind of buzz just before its release,” he said.
Borpujari also shared his views on the revival of Assamese cinema.
“I think Assamese cinema is witnessing what I feel is the beginning of a good phase, with several new filmmakers who believe in sensitive storytelling having emerged in the last few years. Among them are Rima Das, Reema Borah, Jaicheng Dohutiya, Himjyoti Talukdar, Bhakar Hazarika, Bidyut Kotoky, etc. I hope the trend continues,” Borpujari added.
Echoing similar thoughts, film critic and head of mass communication and journalism department at Dakshin Kamrup Girls’ College, Mirza, Ratna Das said that Village Rockstars is a reflection of reality.
“The characters have been played by their real life counterparts; the village shown is the very same place where the incident happened. The script has little changes but the subject matter of the film is true and everything has been lifted straight from the lives of the people shown. The movie is a reflection of reality,” he said.
Heaping praise on the filmmaker, he said: “Rima Das is a filmmaker in the true sense. She single-handedly directed, shot and scripted the entire movie, besides editing it beautifully. The installation of characters in the movie has been done so that there is stillness to the frames, in the manner the camera lingers both upon the landscape and on people’s faces. The way of life has been magically brought alive on screen. Rima Das can be a role model for us… she has blazed a trail for others to follow. She has amply proved that money is not the sole basis for success of a film.”
“A good movie has three aspects – cost, art as a medium and as an instrument of social change. Viewers search for the meaning of life as the movie progresses. Village Rockstars has all these aspects. The commercial aspect of a film cannot be overlooked, but its artistic aspect and role as instrument of social change are priorities as well,” Ratna Das said.