Oscar Foreign Entry ‘Village Rockstars’ Director: ‘I Started From Nothing With Only a Camera’

Rima Das tells TheWrap why non-filmmakers should just go for it

In the wetlands of northeast India, a group of kids had a dream to make it big as a rock band. Their instruments weren’t real, but that didn’t matter. Their dream was real.

“Children can dream no matter where they come from,” director Rima Das told TheWrap’s Steve Pond at a Q&A on Monday following a screening of her film “Village Rockstars,” India’s entry into the Oscar foreign film race.

The children’s dream and one camera were the only ingredients necessary to make “Village Rockstars,” a story following 10-year-old Dhunu, a young girl (played by Bhanita Das) with a dream to get a guitar and start a band with some friends. Her dream remains strong despite the world around her. Dhunu’s village is constantly hit with heavy floods and her widowed mother (Basanti Das) constantly battles adversity to support the family.

Das told the audience at Landmark Theatres that her goal was to depict a story of imagination rising above the circumstances. To do so in her first feature film, Das had to helm much of the production by herself. Das is credited for not only directing, but shooting, casting, editing and much more.

“It was very hard and challenging, but who doesn’t like freedom?” she said.

To approach such a workload, Das had to think of the filmmaking process like painting a picture. A painting can be done by one person, so why not a film? Das said she focused on one thing at a time, such as the colors she wanted to use in the film. Then would be the costumes.

Stroke after stroke, the film would start filling with life just like a painting.

Das actually began her career as an actress when she moved to Mumbai from the same small village depicted in the film. When she went back home to visit, she felt enamored by the joy these boys in front of her had while playing their instruments. That moment sparked an idea in her mind to write a film about that captured that joy.

From start to finish Das said “Village Rockstars” took four years to complete, with two of those years spent filming in the small village in broad daylight. Some things about the story changed, including who she would focus on as the lead character.

In the beginning Das wanted to shoot the boys she had seen performing during her return to her home village. But then, Das’ cousin, who hung around on set, drew her eye. A first-timer, Bhanita got onto the project because Das noticed she always had this joy about her no matter what she was doing.

“The boys were upset, but they understood,” Das said with a laugh regarding the lead character change.

Das hopes the film will encourage people with little to no background in filmmaking to get out and tell their story. After all, the first-time filmmaker has had a chance to premiere her film at the Toronto Film Festival and travel the world using her own story.

“I started from nothing with only a camera in my hand,” she said. “It was hard, but I felt liberated.”