This year’s National Awards may have had a couple of misfires, but gave regional language cinema the respect and recognition it deserves.
Rima Das’s Assamese Village Rockstars picked up the Best Film award, adding to the list of the multiple awards it has won so far. It also won for Best Editing (Rima Das) and Best Location Sound (Mallika Das) and Best Child Actor (Banita Das).
How Rima Das made 'Village Rockstars' is in itself a story of great determination. She is the director of the film and also producer, writer, production designer, cinematographer and editor. She shot the film in her own village of Chhaygaon in Assam, over three years with just a cousin to assist her. The protagonist is also a cousin, and the others all real villagers.
Through her film, the audience discovers a slice of India that is not usually seen. Village Rockstars has a calm unhurried pace; there is the drama of real life, not heightened emotions. Dhunu, the spirited heroine of the film, and her band of boys pretend to play music on instruments made out of thermocol and glitter paper. But, despite the family’s grinding poverty, her widowed mother (Basanti Das), supports her daughter’s dreams, while acknowledging that her son (Manabendra Das) is good-for-nothing.
The kids go barefoot to school and often eat just rice and salt, because there is no money for a proper meal. The floods destroy the family’s small farm every year. Dhunu asks her mother, why she even bothers to work on the farm, and the skinny, weather-beaten woman replies that hard work is the only ‘dharma’ they have. Still, Dhunu dreams of having a real guitar one day — not better food, not more clothes or a pair of shoes, but a guitar — perhaps a means of escape from poverty. Their lack of money does not stop the kids from enjoying what they have in the form of natural beauty, friendship, a sense of mischief tempered with responsibility.
Dhunu runs around with the village boys, climbing trees and splashing in ponds. When she is admonished by the village women for being a tomboy, her mother fights back on her behalf. The mother-daughter bond is heart-warmingly strong, whether she is removing lice from the child’s hair or teaching her to swim (her husband had drowned during a flood, because he could not swim). When Dhunu helps neighbours harvest betel nuts for money, and proudly hands over the meagre earning to her mother, she objects to her daughter working for other people. “Don’t I feed you?” she says sadly.
Dhunu represents the millions of girls getting ahead with the encouragement of their mothers, who were not even allowed to dream for themselves, but try to give their daughters the ability to reach for the stars.