Village Rockstars is a story of a 10 year old girl in a remote village in Assam. This village is an earthly equivalent of Paradise. The expansive landscapes with blue skies, green fields and colorful lives of these cheerful kids, conjure up a soul that embraces this film and exudes a tremendous sense of warmth.
Dhunu lives with her widowed mother and Munu, her goat. Climbs trees with boys and goes to school crossing bridges and helps her mother with a small stall they setup. The sparse facilities and comforts do not define the size of her dreams. She dreams to be a guitarist in a rockband, unable to buy the actual instruments, the kids make fake instruments using thermocol. The scene of Dhunu carving out a trendy looking guitar out of a thermocol piece is delightful. She makes herself a guitar with thermocol and has this huge circular hat that she puts on while performing and when it rains. In a way, the image of Dhunu with the circular hat on her head, could be seen as a symbolic representation of the wisdom she possesses. Banita Das plays Dhunu with such depth that is unfair to expect from a 10 year old non-actor but the amount of depth and life Banita manages to bring in is magical. She is completely oblivious to the presence of camera. It feels as if she is just living her life and it is only by chance that the camera happens to find her.
Rima Das has single handedly mounted this miraculous film. She is the Director, writer, producer, editor, production designer and cinematographer of the film. In a beautiful moment in the film, Dhunu reads in a piece of paper that one will eventually acquire what they wish for and wonders if she would, someday, own her guitar. A wise old man tells her that there is no reason why one cannot achieve their dreams, if they keep working at them with utmost honesty and love. This theme in the film applies itself, beautifully, to Rima Das’ journey of getting this film made, that took 4 years to be completed and today, it is India’s official entry to the Oscars. Rima uses her camera exquisitely, traversing the ethereal landscapes of the village, as she follows the kids. The imagery in the film is so stunning that it left me speechless with my eyes welled up. The sky keeps changing colours as we go through these people’s lives. The first time we see Dhunu, she’s standing in the middle of tall weeds, looking thoughtfully into nothingness. To Rima’s camera, Dhunu and nature are not two different entities. Rima shoots Dhunu against serene, expansive skies and fields, as if she is a part of the nature, she becomes a part of this sensational display of the nature’s beauty. There are several scenes in which the kids are just roaing boats, moving forward, in the flooded roads and fields, indicating the progression of Dhunu’s mind and life, as she travels further in the journey, that is, life.
There is one particular scene, in which the framing stands out and reflects the stark reality. The kids go to see an actual band playing music in a small room. But the kids are not inside the room, they peep into the room from a window and enjoy the music being played. This terrific framing of the scene conveys that these kids with dreams can dream all they like but would never enter the world they dream of, they are always the outsiders peeping in with hopeful eyes.
Village Rockstars shuns all the cynicism or pity and conducts an elaborate orchestra of human life set against eye-popping locales of Assam. This film is an example of mature Filmmaking, it never romanticizes the idea of poverty or the destitute of these kids. The film casts an uncolored gaze at these lives. It does not seek for cheap emotions from the audience, it does not ask you to feel sorry for the kids, it rather makes us feel sorry for ourselves, for our constant cribbing, for our insecurities, for our unending greed. Ultimately, the film whispers in your ear, asking you to surrender yourself and let the, ever-running, time standstill as we experience this therapeutic film.
Quite fittingly, the only music played in this film is at the end when Dhunu finally gets the guitar and plays most incoherently stringed guitar notes that caress your ears in the most melodic way. The film is filled with silences and the dialogue is sparse, hence every word spoken is meaningful and deep. My favorite dialogue in the film is when the kids go to a Guitar repair shop and touch the guitar, the man dismissively says ” Don’t touch, it is someone else’s ” . This line is indicative of the divided world we live in. Our world cannot be Dhunu’s and her world cannot be ours; yet, I watched the entire film with my eyes and heart welled up. Great cinema does that. Village Rockstars is made such innocence and honesty that the joy of the kids in a small village in Assam is palpable for someone watching this film in a multiplex, in one of the metropolitans.
The moments between Dhunu and her mother are particularly moving. The conversation they have after her mother trains her to swim, are about courage and the importance of courage to survive or prosper in life. This is exactly the courage that has powered the making of this extraordinary film. Rima Das’ Village Rockstars is all heart. Oscar or no Oscar, this film deserves resounding applause.