Village Rockstars

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Village Rockstars
"All the actors here are non-professionals and Das elicits extraordinarily natural performances from them." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Rima Das has said that she made this film as a tribute to the people from the area of India where she grew up. The title is ambiguous. On the one hand it refers to the film’s heroine, Dhunu, whose dreams revolve around being up on stage with a guitar. On the other, it could be seen as referring to the villagers more generally, to their courage, fortitude and creativity, working hard for a living in order to remain in what, under Das’ gaze, is arguably the most beautiful place in the world.

“Work is religion for us. Hard work is the only thing we have,” says Dhunu’s mother when asked why she continues to farm when the farm floods every year. Dhunu is adept at many of the skills this work entails, but she sees life differently – so differently, in fact, that villagers warn that society will shun her. What is she doing playing with boys all the time? Why is she climbing trees? Though she clearly enjoys the ceremony that eventually welcomes her into womanhood, Dhunu is unimpressed by these attempts to restrict her options (paralleled by the experience of a boy from her school who is beaten for having ‘long’ hair). Fortunately her mother, who points out that she has had to do everything since her husband died, is more open minded. She encourages Dhunu to be herself, and to be brave. She describes her own experience of learning to swim simply by forcing her way through the water and refusing to succumb to fear.

Copy picture

All the actors here are non-professionals and Das elicits extraordinarily natural performances from them. She took five years to make the film and its resultant quality is immediately impressive. Working alone with her actors, she did everything herself and much of it in challenging conditions, in heavy rain or on waterlogged and uneven ground, yet what we see on the screen is almost flawless. Children run squealing through the fields, chasing each other, playing on a borrow bike, or line up along a bridge with home-made fishing rods. Fields and pools of water stretch out to the horizon, muted tones of blue and gold tinged with copper by the setting sun. When the sky opens, the children shelter beneath broad leaves, grinning, hardly seeming to notice when the rain hits their heads anyway.

The sense of spontaneity in this film will make it particularly appealing to young viewers, and it features the most delightful relationship between a child and a domestic animal since 2015’s Lamb. Through Dhunu, Das captures the spirit of a place experiencing cultural change yet losing nothing of its essential character. She doesn’t fall into the trap of romanticising poverty but reveals in her young heroine a lust for life that could thrive anywhere. The longed-for guitar isn’t necessary to make Dhunu a rockstar, just to help others see it.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2018
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A young village girl in northeast India wants to start her own rock band.

Director: Rima Das

Year: 2017

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: India

Festivals:

SSFF 2017
Glasgow 2018

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