Village Rockstars

Bollywood’s loss is our considerable gain when Rima Das who left her remote Indian village to find work as an aspiring actor in the Hindi film capital of Mumbai, finally came to the realization that if she were to make it in the movie industry, it would not be in front of the camera but rather behind it bringing her own visions to the screen. 

Village Rockstars is self-taught filmmaker Rima Das’ beautiful charming coming-of-age story and stunning visual homage to her hometown of Chahaygaon in rural northeast India, and a love poem to remote village life and its people struggling to survive the yearly floods. 

Opting for a more realist experience very much in the spirit of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955), we follow a playful ten year old girl Dhunu (Bhanita Das), living an idealic childhood as a tomboy who loves to run and roughhouse with the village boys climbing trees, walking to school and pretending to be in a rock band with her friends using Styrofoam cut-out guitars.

Dhunu and her widowed mother are managing without her father who died in an accident during one of the previous floods and her mother gently teaches her daughter to be independent, allowing her the freedom to enjoy her childhood. But once puberty strikes there is pressure from the villagers to keep this free-spirited girl out of the trees and indoors.

When Dhunu finds a real guitar for sale at the local market, she dreams of the fame and fun she and her friends will enjoy as a village rock band and tries to find a way to make enough money to buy the guitar. First she consults the wise village elder who gives her the idea of helping the neighboring villagers with little favors and tasks that they cannot do themselves; like collecting fruit too high to reach by climbing tall trees and shaking the branches. This way she’s able to eventually save enough money and also make valuable friendships in the process.

There are some striking similarities with another touching coming-of-age film, Wadjda (2012), also about a savvy ten year old girl living with her mother in suburban Riyad, Saudi Arabia who also finds some crafty ways to make money to buy a bicycle she wants so she can ride to school with the boys. In much the same way that Wadjda learns to use her natural skills as a young entrepreneur, Dhunu also learns that with determination, she can achieve her dreams.

This is the kind of life that director Rima Das had grown up in and lovingly rediscovered again in her adulthood after returning from Mumbai as a failed actor. While following and getting to know this group of rambunctious children as they go about their daily lives spontaneously enjoying playful activities in their natural environment, even allowing them to participate in the actual making of the film, Rima gives us a real sense of what life is like for these people as we witness them struggling with nature, animals and weather. 

It’s a remarkable achievement as the film is totally self-financed using a non-professional cast of characters from her own village, and a documentary style of filming. With very little dialogue or story, Rima Das is able to create the kind of experimental minimalist neorealism pioneered and championed by legendary filmmakers Satyajit Ray and Abbas Kiarostami.  

Village Rockstars’ heartfelt story and authentic organic locations are so fondly visualized in such intimate detail and evocative vignettes; we can feel the mud huts baking in the sweltering heat, and the coolness of soaking in water pools among the grass fields. It’s an absolute gem, the kind of crowd-pleaser that will most certainly enjoy universal appeal.


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