Interview: Rima Das Talks the Making of ‘Village Rockstars’

As you gaze upon the sophisticated direction of “Village Rockstars“, you wouldn’t guess that its helmer Rima Das had no formal training in film. And when you further realize that she made shot, wrote, produced and edited the film on her own, you would agree that “Village Rockstars” is in her words, a miracle. Recently I caught up with Das to get further insight into the long journey of making this award-winning drama, which is now India’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. In our edited interview below, she discusses honing her craft with children as her inspiration and how her acting dreams led her to becoming a successful director.

Shane Slater: What was the inspiration behind this film?

Rima Das: It started when I was living in Mumbai for a couple of years. I met these amazing children who were performing and playing with these fake instruments. They had so much energy and spirit. The film is coming from the power of the innocence of children. Wherever they are from, they can dream. So that was the realization and I started spending time with them and they taught me how to unlearn. It’s a film about the beauty of not knowing and the beauty of ordinary things.

SS: India is known for having a very active film industry in terms of the volume of films being made. What was your experience in getting this film funded and completed?

RD: I came to Mumbai to become an actor. When I decided to make movies and I was back in my village, I bought a Canon 5D Mark II camera. During my acting days I found it very fascinating and handy. And that’s how, with a small crew, I made my first film.

When I started making “Village Rockstars” and met these beautiful children, I didn’t want to lose this opportunity. When I was doing my first film there were too many limitations. I am a self-taught filmmaker, I haven’t gone to film school. So actually, this film is also kind of a film school for me. I saved a little money I had and my family helped. It actually took me 4 years. I made this film all alone and my little sister Malika helped me in almost every department. And the children who acted in the film also became a part of the crew themselves. It was a very organic learning process for me.

SS: How was the collaboration with these child actors? Were you able to draw on any film references to direct them?

RD: It was extraordinary. They are exposed to cinema but those children aren’t very aware of films. There was some kind of driving force guiding us. They stayed with me for almost 4 years and I simply told them they are very special and if they just believe in me and the process, something good would happen. We had a special bond. Sometimes their parents couldn’t understand but I think it was magical.

SS: The performances are so naturalistic. Was there any improvisation?

RD: It was 99% scripted. There was improvisation in only a few scenes. It is a fiction not a documentary. This is my second movie and what I learned from my first film is when it’s a fiction, you have to be very careful about the dialogue and the scenes and how you get to the climax. The actor in me helped because from my childhood I wanted to be an actor. In the writing process, I wrote and said the lines myself so the actors could be very comfortable. I used easy dialogue so they could easily deliver it. That was my main motive, to make them comfortable and confident.

SS: Village Rockstars won the Indian National Film Award and is now the country’s official Oscar submission. How did it feel for the film to receive these honors and how has it changed your life?

RD: It is very difficult to express in words. It’s a miracle for us and India. It’s so inspiring for every young or new filmmaker to show that it is possible. Most of the time, we get the feeling that it is not possible and our dreams are too big. In India, we feel like we are ordinary people who dream big. I am overwhelmed by the response. Life changed in a way that I feel like now, the journey I started 4-5 years ago is possible. You can dream and if you really believe in your vision and style, it is possible. I also learned there is no rule for filmmaking or art. If you are telling stories from your heart, then people connect with it. Studios are now approaching me, they want to make movies with me. It is very inspiring.

“Village Rockstars” is the Indian submission for the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.