Rima Das’s ‘Village Rockstars’ Hits High Notes

From a small village in Assam that is no more than a dot on the map to Cannes, home to the world’s biggest film festival, via Hong Kong – the journey of filmmaker Rima Das and her ‘Village Rockstars’ has been nothing if not exceptional. Village Rockstars was officially unveiled in the Cannes Film Market recently as part of the ‘Hong Kong Goes to Cannes’ programme, a pitching platform for four cherry-picked Asian works-in-progress.

The Assamese film was one of four titles selected in March this year at the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) from a bunch of works-in-progress.

Featuring amateur child actors from Das’ Chhaygaon village, where it is set, the film tells the story of a poor but spirited girl who aspires to buy a guitar and make music.

The other three films that made the trip to Cannes are ‘Echoes’ from Israel, ‘Omotenashi’ from Japan/Taiwan and ‘The Third Wife’ from Vietnam.

“This year we had eight works-in-progress up for selection,” said Roger Garcia, executive director of The Hong Kong International Film Festival Society Limited, under whose aegis HAF is held.

The Forum, the most important of its kind in Asia, has been in existence for the past decade and a half.

Introducing her film before the screening of a 20-minute excerpt from it, Das said: “This film germinated when I was shooting my first film (‘Antardrishti’) in the village. I met these amazing children and felt enthused to tell their story on the big screen.”

At the heart of ‘Village Rockstars’ is 10-year-old Dhunu, a girl raised by a widowed mother. “Growing up in poverty and facing repeated natural calamities, she is a tough soul,” said Das. “The influence of her tenacious, non-conformist mother makes her even tougher.”

For Das, who usually works out of Mumbai, ‘Village Rockstars’ marks a return to her roots.

“When I returned to Chhaygaon from Mumbai, these children helped me unlearn everything and reconnect with the soil,” she told the audience.

‘Village Rockstars’ was edited over the past month in Rome with a post-production grant that the film received at HAF. “I now have a 70-odd minute cut,” says Das.

Festival programmers and prospective co-producers – Das still needs some gap funding for the project – have already shown interest in the film. ‘Village Rockstars’ will take final shape in Mumbai, where the edit is due to happen soon, said Das.

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