Rima Das’s Village Rockstars is a refreshing departure from the traditions of film making. Set in the quiet village of Chhayagaon in Assam, it tells the tale of Dhunu, a pre-pubescent girl who dreams of starting a rock band and having her own guitar. The film discards traditional storytelling methods by minimal use of dialogue and letting the camera tell the story. The influence of observational cinema on Das’s storytelling is hard to miss.
There are two elements in Village Rockstars which are of particular interest, and they are both boldly put forward. The first is the element of feminism – which Das has found a subtle but profound way of showing. In a place unencumbered by the social media debates around women empowerment, it shows us how just a little bit of support and empathy can empower a girl.
The second element is nature itself. The tussle between man and nature represents a hegemonic relationship which we can never hope to balance. There are strong undertones of how village life has been shaped by the ravages of nature. How death and hardship during floods has become an accepted part of life.
Dhunu loves to spend time in one of her favourite places which is a gigantic tree. She and her friends, who are all boys, climb the tree and lie down on its branches while gazing at the open sky. They live carefree and unhindered by the societal norms which bind the outside world.
In a place unencumbered by the social media debates around women empowerment, it shows us how just a little bit of support and empathy can empower a girl.
In the movie, there is a scene where Dhunu’s mother is returning home from the local haat (weekly market). On the way, she has to cross a muddy path across a field. She trips and falters and the contents of her bag fall out onto the muddy road. During this time her face remains stoic and no emotion of dismay crosses her face. It is an example of how she is unfazed by the daily difficulties that life throws at her and how she continues to pick herself up despite it all.
Her mother’s quiet strength is a sense of inspiration for Dhunu. When the women of the village rebuke Dhunu for hanging around with boys all the time and climbing trees, her mother staunchly comes to her aid. When Dhunu starts menstruating, it is celebrated with a function at home and she spends her time alone in the house. After her periods are over, she is back racing across the fields and climbing trees with her friends.
Heavy-duty sound effects and melodramatic moments find no place in Das’s storytelling. Village Rockstars tries to tell its viewers that an act of empowerment can be as simple and non-dramatic such as treating a girl like a human being and letting her decide her own dreams and happiness. Dhunu’s mother goes about her life paying little heed to her daughter’s puberty or her habits, and this acceptance acts as a powerful source of support for Dhunu.
The film is also a gentle nudge for women to help and support other women. Dhunu’s father was swept away by the floods since he did not know how to swim. Dhunu’s mother wants to make sure her daughter is prepared for the worst and teaches her to swim. She wants Dhunu to be independent and be able to fend for herself.
The elements of nature are characters on their own. The rain and wind have played a significant role in the film. The sound design of the film is magnificent. Without traditional background score and melodramatic music in accompaniment, the sounds of nature are used to highlight different emotions in the movie. Rain, in certain scenes, has been used to reflect the psychological position of Dhunu. Different kinds of winds and thunderclaps have been used to portray different emotions.
The film is also a gentle nudge for women to help and support other women.
Nature and its atrocities are an accepted fate in the lives of the villagers. In one scene, Dhunu can be seen crossing an embankment with her friend when she says that her father would not have been swept away by the flood had there been one then. In another scene, Dhunu and her mother are on a boat when she mentions that her father might have been alive had he had known how to swim. However, neither mother or daughter wallow in pity.
Assam floods form an important backdrop for the story. The flood destroys everything in its path including crops, land and lives. However, such harsh conditions are an annual affair for the villagers and they prepare accordingly.
The film ends with the flood but Das does not leave her audience with a sense of gloom. As the water conquers the surrounding landscape, Dhunu along with her friend take a small boat out into the water and paddle along exchanging jokes and laughing as they float along through the vast greyness.
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Medium