When filmmaker Rima Das came up with Village Rockstars last year, a film she wrote, shot, edited and produced along with help from her cousin, one was certain it meant the welcoming of a fresh voice in Indian independent films. The film, that began its festival circuit with a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), tells the story of a young girl in Chayygaon, Das' native village, who dreams of owning a guitar and forming a band with her friends.
Village Rockstars travelled to around 70 festivals all over the world before winning 4 National Awards back home, including one for Best Feature Film. September will see Das travel the festival circuit once again, this time with her third film Bulbul Can Sing, that will be premiered under the Contemporary World Cinema section at TIFF 2018. Shot over 60 days, this film too saw her sharing filmmaking duties with her cousin Mallika Das.
Das tells us over the phone about her learnings from Village Rockstars, why the film hasn't had a commercial release anywhere in India yet and why it's important to develop a taste for different kinds of cinema right from our childhood:
Although your first film Antardrishti went to a few festivals too, your last film Village Rockstars was one of the most travelled films of last year. Did you anticipate it? What have you learnt from the experience?
Honestly I didn't expect so much. I was very happy it was at TIFF. I travelled to many festivals last year and the response was very overwhelming. Much more than I expected, honestly. It helped a lot with visibility and to understand the world market. This was just an Assamese film!
Because my first film travelled to very limited festivals, I was not aware about many things. But with Village Rockstars, I am now much more confident, and the experience I've had so far really helped me.
The film travelled to so many festivals and won 4 National Awards, and it still hasn't had a commercial release. In one of interviews you said that as an independent producer, you will try to release the film in Assam. What about the rest of the country?
Now three-four people are talking to me to release the film. Hopefully we will do an India release in September, and not only in Assam. I can't say how many screens just yet but I'm very hopeful because I'm in talks with big distributors. It won't be a very big one, but a good limited-release all over India.
Do we lack a proper cinema viewing culture in India?
I don't think there's much of a problem with the audience. The audience is changing. Because with Village Rockstars, I was really surprised to see how not only children but all kinds of age groups were accepting the film. It's not only the festival goers. I have had a few other screenings in Assam, Delhi, Kerala, Bangalore, Bombay–the general audience also accepted the film. The biggest problem is we need good marketing, good backup from studios. They have to take the risk.
And for the long term…I was recently in Munich Film Festival and a children's film festival in Paris. I saw the children getting the opportunities to watch good cinema. Maybe in India it will take 10 years, but it's very important that these kinds of films, the ones we feel aren't working, are made. I'm not against Bollywood films but independent movies, although people like to watch them, aren't getting the opportunity.
So there are the two things. First, how to create the opportunities so that the audience can watch these films? And second is to develop the taste right from childhood so that they really want to watch these kinds of films.
My films have been mostly character-driven so far. I love people and characters. Once I decide my character, I like to follow them. And when I'm telling their story, spontaneously the social environment or issues just come up.
Village Rockstars blended the young girl's narrative with social context so well. How did you manage that confluence?
My films have been mostly character-driven so far. I love people and characters. Once I decide my character, I like to follow them. And when I'm telling their story, spontaneously the social environment or issues just come up. But I don't like to forcefully put them.
At this stage, what can you tell us about Bulbul Can Sing?
After Village Rockstars, I wanted to make a trilogy. There were children in Village. Now there are teenagers. I like to work with teenagers and children because I feel there is some honesty in their emotions and they're very vulnerable. I wanted to tell a teenage love story, but later on it becomes more of a friendship. So it's about three teenage, school-going friends–how they discover life, new things, new problems, how they come out of them, what they lose, what they gain. They are actually discovering things.
Your films so far have been very rooted, local stories. Do you ever see yourself making a film in another language?
Definitely. I am working..I will probably make a Hindi film soon. Because I've been in Bombay for almost 10 years now so I feel like making a movie here.