I remember watching Village Rockstars in the chock-a-block India Habitat Centre auditorium after waiting two hours in a queue to get my entry pass. I had been a regular viewer this festival for last three years and this was first time I saw mainstream Delhi movie-goers cried for an entry pass, that too for an Assamese film. The corwded Habitate centre’s Stein auditorium had limited number of seats but had to accommodate hungry audience even on the floor. Many of them had gone back with an emotional state of mind. Let me tell you the India habitat center standing right in the midst of Delhi and a strong hold of elite affairs. That way it is very interesting as well as contrasting, since the film reflects the extreme marginality of seemingly unknown rural snapshots in the elite locus. Seating in the front row, I was thinking how do Assamese village people connect to the idea of ‘Rockstar’? The simple definition of Rockstar is ‘a famous, successful and celebrated singer of rock music’. But what we see in this movie is entirely a different notion of ‘Rockstar’. Rima’s rockstar is a dreamer, fighter, struggler in a patriarchal society and amidst poverty.
‘Dhunu’ the village rockstar, dreams one day she will became a successful singer and guitar player. Since her single mom can’t afford the expense of a guitar, she along with her male friends prepares a toy guitar with thermocol, which looks like a guitar but don't have strings and hence no music. But the music was very much there, the strings were inside their hearts and hence they could enjoy the music of rain, wind and pain. Dhunu always likes to be with her male friends, she even climbs the tree and her mother encourage her to do so. With a very seamless and controlled touch of feminism Rima built the character of Dhunu playing in the watery paddy fields, witnessing the flood and remembering her father’s death in the last years’ flood. These are so relatable to the people of Assam, grown up in a village. The presentation of Dhunu’s ‘Tuloni Biya’ is so authentic and unique, specially when her male friends come and talk to her in a bit hesitation. Besides the scene when they come back from the school in a rainy day shouting slogans against flood covering their heads by a leaf, is just resonates what can be a rural life in lower Assam. Dhunu’s bonding with her pet goat is an emotional one and one day, when the goat didn't come back to home, she couldn't get over it easily. Dhunu’s mother as I said is supportive of her and defends her child when she is doing right. Her mother once even bargained for a new guitar in the nearby market, although couldn't mange to buy. The thermocol guitar is like a character to the film, representing the entire ethos of the ‘village rockstar’. In the building of the story, nature of the village plays a pertinent role in the narrative. The rain, wind and sudden rise to the flood are not simply a graphics or production gimmick. These were always around us and Rima able to compose a sublime narrative through her natural visualization. I realized, this is after so long, I have seen a authentic village in an Assamese movie. I remember seeing villages in Hagoroloi Bohu Dur, Halodhiya Choraiye bau dhan khay, Haladhar and now in amongst the rockstars of the Chaygaon village. The entire music of the film has been weaved in guitar sound, which was entirely grotesque. The non-grammatical sound of the guitar strings every time make you realize that the rockstars are waiting for their dream guitar.
The location, where the film based on is the Lower Assam. I often see, in Assamese popular culture Lower Assam’s language tone has always been used arouse comedy and humor. That has become a form of generalizations. But Village Rockstar is an exception. Keeping the authenticity of the language, it expresses dialogues in their local tone the way they want to say, without any overripe layers. From language and cultural locus aspect, I see this film is a resistance in front of Upper-Assam dominated Assamese film industry. I don't really recall a good number of films based on Lower Assam. Although this is not only in cinema but the whole cultural scenario is being dominated by Upper-Assam sensibilities and there is a longer history behind it. Let’s not get into cultural politics the debate. But the point, I want raise here is that this is so important to discuss cultural expressions in terms of ‘region’ and ‘cultural locus’. We need to question the one directional representation of culture. If every regions in Assam can be explored in a systematic way, thousand stories will come up to the screen. The way Gautam Bora’s ‘Woshobippo’ incorporated the Karbi region a bit many years ago. But Rima showed us a path in an age when film making believed to be technology driven and less of authentic thinking. By this, I don't mean to be critical about popular entertainment films. But this corporate industry should equally accommodative to the independent films as well.
Rima Das, the director teamed up with her relatives to make a film with her Canon 5D camera and a boom on it. And it is for a full length film. All of them were not trained actors, there was no production crew to offer tea and delicious food. How challenging it would be? This will definitely inspire thousands who are ready with their original ideas but don't have a proper budget ready. Rima add something fresh to the Assamese film which has seemingly longer history of rise and fall as an industry. Awards apart, Rima just broke the patriarchal barriers of film making, and yes, villagers would say she is a ‘Rockstar’.