2017 Film Reviews

The Uninhibited Spirit of Hope: Rima Das’ ‘Village Rockstars’

Rima Das is an independent Assamese filmmaker from India, whose second feature film, Village Rockstars, centers around a 10-year-old village girl, Dhunu (Bhanita Das), on the cusp of puberty. The 87-minute drama celebrates the protagonist’s passion for adventure and self-discovery, negating the conflict of gender disparity and adjusting with the coarseness of daily life in a village landscape.

The film’s theme precisely draws one’s attention to gender equality and subtly makes a statement on women empowerment. Village Rockstars examines the importance of a mother and how equality, unlike charity, initiates at home. The mother not only exhibits an unbridled attitude towards her daughter but also defends her wish to start a rock band by purchasing a guitar, as well as granting her wish to climb trees with boys. It’s an engaging tale narrated by an elderly village person, who references the Indian epic Mahabharata for an allegory: the mother is larger than the sky, which — in a way — highlights the importance of a mother figure throughout the film. Thus, Das presents one of the most beautiful mother-daughter relationships portrayed in Indian cinema.

The nature of the pristine digital images in Village Rockstars projects an objectively realistic feature, where each scene approximates with the gentle rhythms of rural subsistence. The captivating images of the filmmaker’s hometown in rural northeast India present an authentic, organic location, captured with precision and intimate detail while evoking the specifics of a resonating ecosystem. Such vivid imagery presents an authentic sense of what life is like for locals who endlessly struggle with nature, animal and weather. The visual patterns allow viewers to feel the mud huts baking in the sweltering heat and the tenderness of soaking in water pools among the grass fields, along with various other daily activities such as planting paddies in the fields, tending to cattle and goats, plucking betel nuts or assessing the threat of another torrential monsoon season.

Village Rockstars represents a cultural category that is largely ignored by mainstream cinema and heralds a new chapter in the contemporary practice of serious filmmaking in India. There is a serenity to the film, an unhurried quality, as life unfolds at a measured pace. The snippets of village life appear neither manufactured nor exaggerated. With little dialogue or story, Das creates a specific kind of minimalist realism, and it’s a remarkable achievement, as Village Rockstars was self-financed using a non-professional actors from her own village. It further represents a new attitude to independent filmmaking, rejecting the orthodoxy and conservatism of traditional styles, thereby affirming the filmmaker’s belief in the freedom of cinematic expression.

Hence, one can sum up Village Rockstars as a tale of hopes and aspirations for an adolescent wrapped up in her desires and a dream to procure an actual guitar — one she can actually strum with her fingers rather than imitating the strings in her imagination. Rima Das captures the milieu of the film with a fundamentally holistic aesthetic and her quest for realism in its purest form.

Dipankar Sarkar (@dipankarftii) is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.