Village Rockstars – This film doesn’t want you to pity the Characters
Village Rockstars is a simple story that you could rarely find in the cinema world, which is why it has been nominated for Oscars. Shot in an Assamese dialect, this film is an all-girls venture that reflects women empowerment in every inch. The story revolves around a young girl Dhunu, played by Bhanita Das who lives with her mother and brother in a remote Assamese village. Unlike girls of her age, she doesn’t have the standard societal feminity and therefore, loves to climb the trees and fish with the boys. On watching a band perform at a convert, she makes a thermocol guitar and flaunts it when she’s not doing the chores. The local music inspires her to get a guitar someday. But people who have limited means, can they dream or dare to fulfill their dream?
Rima Das’ film is filled with too many poignant elements that directors who make a two-hour film can actually display. The film at times is deafening where you want the message to get delivered to you. You don’t have to search for the elements to find you, rather they get handed to you with an ease. If you are someone who doesn’t like to read between the lines and dialogues, then this movie is not for you. If you don’t like a film which has a slower screenplay and pausing moments in between that make you wonder, why are we being shown this particular frame, then this film is not for you? It has an immersive expression which is almost as natural as it is dramatic. All the scenes in which you see Dhunu playing with her friend on his new bicycle reflect how children are oblivious to the social status and can make relations that are beyond understanding. Dhunu as an energetic girl who loves to hang out with boys rather than women is a hope for stepping out of the norms that the society has set for the girls.
When the surrounding women who witness Dhunu played with guys, threaten her to be punished. This angers her widowed mother who constantly questions why people are not bothered that she’s doing all the chores in her house after her husband died in the flood. She demands an answer for why no one is actually concerned about her doing man’s and as well as woman’s work. She stresses on this point that she repeats the sentence ‘I do everything’ three different times. While the delivery of this dialogue, we see an angst and pain in her voice paired with helplessness. The beauty of this character is that it is as strong as it is uncharacteristic. There is no answer to all of her pain and there will never be. There’s a moment in the film where she falls in the water and gets drenched while crossing a puddle and she just gets up and acts as if nothing happened. This reflects how her life goes on, despite whatever hurdles that come her way and her family’s way.
Village Rockstar is a portrayal of an innocent child’s journey as she becomes a ‘woman’ from a child. Even short in length, it has perfectly displayed the culture and tradition of Assam. Dhunu, as a girl is wayward with her dreams. She is active, functional and extremely optimistic as she wants to reach heights. Her brother and she, helps her mother do things in order to make ends meet. After being inspired by the band, she and her fellow kids form a rock band where they keep singing while playing the thermocol instruments. However, with time they get bored of this pretentious music and wants to get a real guitar in order to make their dreams fulfilled. Through the film, you will laugh when Dhunu laughs and cry when she cries; forming moments of the story. As I covered movies from all regions and languages, I understood that the reason why Village Rockstars attracted people is that it has a simple template.
Rima Das takes this undiluted template of a girl child who wants to be a rock star. She then weaves a story that covers her family, her peers, her financial situation, the adversity of natural calamities making it both universal and personal at the same time. He knows that the audience will remove her from the subject as she deals with it which is why she doesn’t sell the struggle of Dhunu as an entertainment. She will not ask you to laugh with inappropriate humor or make you cry with unwanted emotions. In fact, she doesn’t want you to cry at all. She just wants you to hear the story of Dhunu and may stay empathetic if you can. This is why you don’t see the characters in the film struggling even when they are in their hard situation. There are moments where their house gets flooded or when they eat rice without any curry but still, you won’t have any sympathy for them.
We are constantly shown the joy of the children playing in pools of muddy water. We see the bonding between them when the kids try to teach the boy who slaps Dhunu, a lesson. We see hope and positivity in Dhunu where she saves money by doing chores for others to buy a guitar. Rima Das also managed to link Dhunu’s hope with Jalaluddin Rumi through a simple newspaper tagline. We see love, understanding and empowerment when her mother gets a guitar for her. We see innocence and empathy when she gives the saved money to her mother after being caught in floods. We see pride when her mother reprimands her from doing work for others. We see light and healing in the green paddy fields. There’s a layer of deprivation and pain tuck under all of this, which can’t be trespassed easily. It is not a movie that should be watched in air conditioning theatres with popcorn bucket in the hand. It is something that should be watched in an abundant green field as the breeze hits you.
Through the movie, there is one thing that you should appreciate. It’s Rima’s understanding of the characters and the way she has used the camera.
Even though it works as an omnipresent bystander, there is warmth in its angles and frames. An intruder for sure, but one who is only eavesdropping to make sure everything is fine. Notice the way Dhunu is captured in those idle moments—on the boat, in the paddy fields; she is our heroine and she shines translucently throughout. Rima takes things further by implementing cuts and edits that are far too swift and abrupt even.
A scene of sadness in this film is followed by humorous moments and this is her way of making the audience not feel pity towards the characters. If there’s something that this film doesn’t need, it’s the pity. The songs, music and the sound design of the film are full of rural nuances like lice beings, birds chirping that are smashed between the fingernails. You can even hear the air that runs through the leaves, water reacting the oars. Other than that, the film doesn’t have much music. When Dhunu strums the guitar for the first time, your sound deprived ears feel like it’s the most beautiful music that you have ever heard.
In a defining moment, Dhunu asks her mother to buy her a guitar, a cheap one, her mother says that they have to sell their pet goat to be able to afford it. Dhunu swiftly refuses, as she loves her pet. To gain something, you have to lose something is what that scene and the ending, for that matter, tells you, but not in so many words.
Dhunu, after achieving her puberty is then crafted to change her behavior from all the warnings and scoldings. She then tries to manage a physical distance from the boys but soon gets back to her own way. She could not sustain this artificially supposed maturity that she is supposed to have or cultivate just because she turned into a woman. There are just too many life lessons in the film which don’t come in your way normally. Rima has beautifully known where to draw the line between these and she had the skill to turn powerful images to skills. Imagine two widows standing far far away from the ceremony when Dhunu gets her first periods. All of the elements that happen in this episode are observations of the existing culture showing how rooted and powerful they are, but not statements against it.
Finally, Village Rockstars is not a movie about poverty. It is about hope. It is about courage and despite everything, it is about empowerment. Courage is the only weapon that Dhunu has against the world and it is the only thing that keeps her mother drowning from years. Courage is her company. There is a sentence in the movie which speaks ‘Work is our religion. Hard work is the only thing we should do’ and it has bestowed a lot of confidence on me to dare to dream.