There is an alternating sense of level-headedness and babyish awe in Dhunu’s face, perhaps stemming from reverence for her widowed working mother, from the languid reverie brought by pre-adolescent phase, and from the dream of forming a Rock Band. The Village Rock stars takes place in a village in Assam where broken dreams are as inevitable as the flood-hit farmlands. 10 year old Dhunu (Protagonist) lost her father to flood long before embankment was built for damage limitation. Now she and her brother are brought up by her mother who ekes out a living in a paddy field.
When not in School, Dhunu spends time with boys her age, doing every boyish thing imaginable, including climbing trees, fishing, cycling, romping around corn fields and playing in a Rock Band that’s got Styrofoam for guitar and keyboard. After watching a professional pop band in action at school, Dhunu becomes obsessed with forming one, a band which uses real instruments. She soon seems to outgrow her childish liking for Styrofoam Guitar. Only one thought occupies her mind now; buy an original Guitar. Dhunu presents her case to mother, who deadpans, ‘we will sell Munna (Baby goat) to buy you a guitar’. Following the advice of a wise old man who indulges kids in philosophy about human condition, Dhunu starts to take up odd jobs, and save money to keep her guitar dream alive.
For me, of all the Rock Stars in the film, the most uncelebrated one who needs immediate induction into Rock n Roll hall of fame is Dhunu’s mother. She is one of those widowed women who may be overwhelmed by the prospect of single parenthood, but never by what others speak of her daughter. Woman seemingly incapable of comprehending her daughter’s artistic inclinations; Woman who is forced to share society’s hostility to the notion of Dhunu frolicking with boys, but who inwardly enjoys watching her bask in the glory of adolescence, and transcend gender norms. Movie has got a series of subtle moments that reveal mother’s ambivalent relationship with social conventions. There are few beautifully photographed mother/daughter bonding scenes. Then there are close up shots of the mother, inviting viewers to contemplate as to what the fleeting glimpses of her wistful expression mean.
Camera unhurriedly follows the aspiring kid Rock stars through seasons. As seasons change without much drama, kids are not too happy to welcome monsoon and the flooding it almost always accompanies. As dreaded, incessant rain wreaks havoc, leaving Dhunu and others displaced. Film portrays Dhunu as a precocious kid who expresses an understanding of local hardships in ways most people twice her age would be unable to. In a not so surprising turn of events, she hands over her paltry savings to mother, relinquishing in the process her dream of owning a guitar. Yes, film has an eponymous climax that one could see a mile away. But it’s the manner in which the climax is nested within a greater realization of love and gratitude that makes this movie an unforgettable experience. You know, the kid’s gratitude for mother, and mother’s love for the kid.
The form of storytelling is at once refreshingly understated and powerfully balanced. Even while remaining minimalistic to its bone, every now and then film catches you by surprise with a calculated sting in dialogues. For instance, when Dhanu asks mother why bother with crops every season if they’re going to get destroyed in the flood, she sternly replies, ‘Work is our Religion’. The self-taught Filmmaker, Rima Das seems to have a clearly-defined itinerary for the character on the cusp of her adolescence. What’s admirable about Rima’s technique is her treatment of minuscule but layered details that help you empathize with film’s meta narrative without the customary accompaniment of sentimentality. It’s quite incredible how Rima managed to capture the differences in demeanor (body language) of Dhunu as she entered adolescence.
There are many dialogue-free sequences that are austerely embellished using natural lighting and sounds. There is no mawkish ode to poverty, nor is there any conscious attempt to be lyrical about gender roles. While watching it I could feel the bleakness of Pathar Panchali and the awe factor of ‘Spirit of the beehive’. Even as Dhunu noodles on her out-of-tune guitar, playing muted notes to a jarring effect, I couldn’t help feeling the music of cinema in my guts. Never has an out-of-tune guitar sounded more melodic to my ears.
Director/Cinematography/Screenplay – Rima Das