‘Village Rockstars’ Director Says Her Acting Struggles Helped Her Oscar Contending Film

TheWrap Oscar magazine: “I didn’t want them to feel what I was feeling when I was looking for jobs in Bollywood,” says director Rima Das of the young stars of her film

A version of this story about “Village Rockstars” first appeared in the Foreign Language Issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

“Village Rockstars,” a lyrical film by Rima Das, plays out like a less raucous version of “The Florida Project” transplanted to the small Indian village of Chhaygaon, where kids carve musical instruments out of Styrofoam and dream of stardom.

The film is India’s entry in this year’s Oscar foreign-language race, and this interview is one in a series of conversations TheWrap is having with the foreign directors in contention.

How did you come of this story?
RIMA DAS
I grew up in that village. For a couple of years, I was living in Mumbai, and when I was back in my village shooting my first film I met these children in the village. And they taught me how to unlearn. They helped me discover the beauty in ordinary things. They have nothing, but they are celebrating life, performing like a rock band with these fake instruments.

And that inspired me. I was wondering, “How did they have so much joy?” I started spending more and more time with them and thought I should tell their story, because they showed me true happiness. I gave them little notebooks to write in, asked them about their hobbies. They want to do so many things. They want to be singers. I was inspired by how they just dream. They are in a little remote village, but that doesn’t matter — they can dream.

And that’s the reason I wanted to tell a story about children who can dream no matter where they’re from.

The movie plays out very casually — we’re just following these kids, without a big plot line driving the story.
When I started watching movies, I liked that realistic approach. The story in this movie is fictional but I didn’t want to compromise in the way I presented the way they are living their lives. I didn’t have any storyboards — I mostly followed them for four years. I became one of them. I wanted the audience to feel the beauty and the freshness that I felt in that village.

Four years? Isn’t that tricky when you’re dealing with kids who are growing up?
Yes, it was tricky. Two years was fine, but later on it became difficult. The main girl’s face didn’t change, fortunately, but she became very tall. So then I shot more closeups, and I managed. Since I was editing also, I shot almost everything from the editing point of view. But it’s not advisable to work with children for four years. [Laughs]

How did you work with them to get those performances?
I went to Mumbai to become an actor — from my childhood, I always had a dream to become an actor. So the actor in me helped a lot to train them in a casual and organic way. When I was in Mumbai, I felt that there is too much pressure on you. I didn’t want them to feel what I was feeling when I was looking for jobs in Bollywood.

So I did it all myself, with only my cousin helping me out. I would sometimes shoot one scene for a week, to give them the freedom and the fun and not make them self-conscious. It it wasn’t happening, we turned it into a picnic.

You directed the film, but you also produced it, wrote it, shot it, edited it, did the production design… Why do so much?
I made my first feature film with a small crew, and I was not happy with that experience. I thought I needed more time, more freedom. So on this film, I made a conscious decision to do it the way I wanted to do it with no outside pressure. And I think that helped me a lot.

To read more of TheWrap’s Foreign Language Issue, click here.