Village Rockstars : ‘IFFLA’ Review
Set in rural Assam, where the backwaters of India can almost leave you desperately moving your entire life in a wooden boat, Dhunu (Bhanita Das) – a young girl on the brink of puberty wishes to form a rock band. Even though she defies multiple norms set by the repressive culturally appropriate elders of the village – the ones that want her to stop climbing trees like a boy while learning supposedly ‘womanly-ethics,’ her imagination and sincerity make us vouch for her. Supported by a single mother who is as important as the little girl in this quiet tale with cardboard dreams, Rima Das’s Dhunnu feels like a character cut out of her own soul.
Village Rockstar is a charming film about the seeding tendency of growing up in a poverty-stricken home basing one’s existence on one big old philosophy that you only get the things you truly wish for if your head believes in that eventuality. The 10-year old girl at the center of the film is a roaring hooligan. A playful tomboy who one day decides that her cardboard-made guitar needs to be replaced by a real one. The reason why we see hope in her dreams is a sweet and charming sincerity in everything she does. Whether it is talking to or loving her goat, climbing long difficult trees to get the nuts or just being a little ball of mush for her mother to love.
While Dhunu flocks around with her elder brother and a young group of other naughty rural boys, she is enjoying the kind of freedom that even some modern day Indian girls don’t get. In showing her lying around drenched in water of the farmland, Das slowly brings us closer to the empowering nature of her tale. Dhunu’s freedom hinges on her mother’s calm rebellious nature towards what a girl should be based on the rural culture. At a point in the film, she shouts out loud commenting on the actions of the other village women who defamed her daughter. Das also loads her slightly observed feminist troops and veil weaklings in the male species. Both Dhunu’s brother & her father are representations of a society which is only male-dominated for the sake of it, while the women become the ones who stand for themselves, earn for themselves and swim for themselves.
The sweet and affectionate tone of Rima Das’s film shows how it is such a special film for her. Dedicating the film to the people of Chhaygaon, Rima lenses both the beauty of innocence in her child protagonist and the giving and chaotic beauty of nature with both tight portrait shots & long wide-angle shots. She captures the rural life, struggles, poverty, muddy lanes & innocent kids sharing comic books and cycle rides with stilted love and care, giving the film an almost documentary-like feel. Bhanita Das who remains the special center of Rima’s film is exceptional as a girl who is just the right amount of innocent, carefree, caring and strong. However, a few other kids including the posh kid with the bicycle feel like cardboard cutouts of other superior films like Avinash Arun’s Killa (2014).
Writing, directing, editing, doing the camera work, costume design and most of the production assignments, Rima Das pretty much like her petite central heroin is a roaring one woman army. While occasionally pondering into the conventionality of the coming-of-age sub-genre, Village Rockstar mostly remains an earthling full of life, joy and a push towards the glorious feeling of believing in oneself and their little dreams.
Also published on Asian Film Vault.