Cinema in Assam promised to take off in 1935, four years after the first Indian talkie Alam Ara was made. That year, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala made Joymoti , the first Assamese film, and Pramathesh Barua became the first screen Devdas, arguably the most popular Indian tragic hero. But it took 55 years for Assamese cinema to earn national recognition, with the Jahnu Barua-directed Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai (The Catastrophe) winning the Swarna Kamal for the best feature film in 1988. Village Rockstars , directed by 36-year-old Rima Das , has become the second Assamese film to win this award, besides three more — best child artist, best location sound recordist and best editing. What sets the film apart is the involvement of people, including Ms. Das, not being trained in any aspect of filmmaking.
How did she get into it?
In Assam’s villages and small towns, a teacher’s job is most cherished. It is no different in Kalardiya, Ms. Das’s village near Chhaygaon, 50 km southwest of Guwahati. Daughter of a teacher, she cleared the National Eligibility Test after her Masters in Sociology at Pune University. But the desire to be an actor — she used to act in school plays — took her to Mumbai in 2003. She acted in plays, including an adaptation of Premchand’s Godaan staged at the Prithvi Theatre. Exposure to Bollywood made her gravitate towards filmmaking, and she spent hours watching the work of masters Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman and Majid Majidi. But making feature films was easier said than done.
How did she clear hurdles?
Ms. Das made her first short film, Pratha , in 2009, and followed it up with two more. She soon realised her career was going nowhere until fate presented her with “field glasses to the future” five years ago, when a colleague showed her a pair of binoculars he had bought for his retired father in their village. It gave her the idea of a script — a father obsessed with an object that makes him discover the world anew. She started work on her first feature film Antardrishti (Man with the Binoculars), shot with a Canon DSLR camera in Kalardiya, in 2013. Completed in 2016, Antardrishti was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Mumbai Film Festival and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia that year. It marked the arrival of Ms. Das as more than a self-taught filmmaker. She became a one-woman crew, writing, directing, producing, editing and shooting a film, besides handling art direction and costume designing.
Village ... happen?
Shooting the first feature film helped Ms. Das look at life from different perspectives. She rediscovered the beauty of her village and her childhood, and this led to the idea of Village Rockstars , about a 10-year-old girl who dreams of owning an electric guitar. She shot the film for more than 150 days, over almost three years, since 2014. She met the children of the film while shooting for Antardristhi . The children were playing with make-believe instruments to music emanating from an audio player. She related to their innocence. As the script developed, she saw in the protagonist a mirror image of herself. The passion that went into the film showed; Village Rockstars became the first film from northeast India to be selected for the Toronto International Film Festival and the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain in 2017.
What next for her?
Though Ms. Das spends much of her time in Mumbai, she frequents Chhaygaon to work with her own people such as cousin Mallika Das, her award-winning location sound recordist. She has assembled her familiar team for the next feature, a teenage love story set in Chhaygaon. For a change, this film will have some professional actors. She also intends to act, but not while she is enjoying the rigours of filmmaking.