Village Rockstars tells the coming of age story of Dhunu and her dreams of one day leading a band. It is a subtle yet masterful commentary on the gender gap in rural India and has been hailed as one of the most beautiful films to have ever been shortlisted for the Academy Awards.
Village Rockstars is a labour of love from Assamese filmmaker, Rima Das. A milestone for the Assamese film industry and a benchmark for the rest of India. The film is written, directed, edited and co-produced by Das, herself. Casting her own relatives in various roles, Das ensured that her project is completed on a shoe string budget. Yet, the budget does not take anything away from the film’s visual quality or market potential. In fact, it just adds to the film’s rustic charm and the “watch that girl go!” attitude. It came as no big surprise, therefore, when on September 22 it was announced by the Film Federation of India (FII) that the film became India’s official selection for the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 91st Academy Award to be held in 2019.
Village Rockstars beat out 27 other films in its way to be selected for the honour. The other titles included films like Raazi, Padmaavat, Hichki, October, Love Sonia, Gulabjaam, Mahanati, Pihu, Kadvi Hawa, Bhogda, Revaa, Bioscopewala, Manto, 102 Not Out, Padman, Bhayanakam, Ajji, Nude and Gali Guliiyan.
Anant Mahadevan, a jury member on the FII said in an interview to an Indian media, “Village Rockstars is the closest film made by international standards. Very proud to select this film and send it to the Oscars.” The film released in theatres across India on September 8 and has garnered raving reviews from critics.
The film, which had begun its production in 2017 was first internationally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2017. This was followed by appearances in various film festivals around the globe in countries ranging from Spain and France to countries as diverse as Argentina and Egypt. It had won numerous awards in the aforementioned countries before grabbing headlines in the 65th National Awards held earlier this year. It won the “Best Feature Film” while also bagging the awards in the “Best Child Artist”, “Best Location Sound Recordist” and “Best Editing” categories.
The story of Dhunu (played by Das’s niece, Bhanita) and her dreams of playing the guitar has resonated worldwide. It talks about the stifling patriarchy in rural India and the hopes and dreams of its women in a much softer and subtler way than contemporaries such as, Sexy Durga or Lipstick under my Burkha. Film-makers from the north east of India in general and Assam in particular who till now have been part of a low key industry have heralded the arrival of this Village Rockstars with immense aplomb.
While talking to Media India Group, C Ghora Barua, a producer and editor of documentaries based in Dibrugarh put to words what exactly Village Rockstars means to the industry. “The Assamese film industry as of today is a loss incurring community. We have some incredible films to offer. Films like Local Kung Fu, Rainbow Fields and Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai are all magnificent works of art. Halodhia was even the National Award winner in ’87. Village Rockstars brings us hope because of the way Rima Das has marketed and campaigned her project. She is not only an extremely talented film-maker but also a very capable marketer. Her film’s Oscar selection and multiple National Awards should open up the rest of the country to north eastern cinema. But, one film would not be enough. We will need to produce more impeccable movies before we are considered seriously.”
Rima Das has been awarded INR 5 million by the Assamese government but she has said that it won’t be enough. She estimates that an amount of INR 30 million would be required to campaign for the final Oscar nominations. She has appealed to the film fraternity and the government to help her raise the amount.