'Village Rockstars' movie review: Removed symphonies

'Village Rockstars' movie review: Removed symphonies

A lullaby-like breeze. In the grass. Between the branches of trees. Against clothes hung out to dry. Muddy feet pach-paching. Nits popped between the fingernails of a determined mother. The slow giggle of a river’s surface. A sickle nudging wet, obstinate roots from a riverbed. To watch Village Rockstars – India’s Oscar entry for 2019 –  is to submit to Rima Das’ finetuning of your ears; to wonder how you can simultaneously experience these everyday symphonies and be so entirely removed from the world they belong to. You will want to push your feet into a squishy riverbank. You might even wish you had a headful of lice so that you may sit by Dhunu’s mother’s feet as she runs her fingers along your sleepy scalp.

Village Rockstars is a film about a 10-year-old girl and her all-boy gang of friends who want to start a band. It is also the story of a widowed mother who is determined to raise her daughter differently. “I do all things myself, I won’t stop her from doing anything,” she snarls at a gaggle of interfering aunties. It is a story of a childhood uninterrupted by the terrible adults it encounters, unfazed by the looming threat of puberty. More than anything, it is a tribute to a small village in Assam that has grown used to an annual flood. “Why do we plant the farm when it floods every year?” Dhunu asks. “Because hard work is all we have,” her mother responds.

In much of the film, nothing at all is happening. Dhunu and co. climb trees and hang from branches. They take boat rides to the middle of the river and argue about the best way to row. They eat rice. They wash their plates. They walk to and from school many, many times. Yet these everyday rituals are filled with warmth and humour, and you begin to suspect that the nothingness, along with the sheer beauty of the landscape, is most essential to producing this effect.

There are things that Village Rockstars wilfully forgets: a complex storyline and characters with loud personalities, in particular. But where it abandons, it makes room for remembering. Some of the funniest moments of the film are produced through the simple act of making its audience recall – the moment a childhood arch nemesis turned friend, what it felt like to learn how to swim, the decision to share a secret with only one of your two best friends.

It is difficult to wrap one’s head around the fact that co-producer Rima Das wrote, directed, and edited Village Rockstars by herself. But it is also impossible to imagine a film so intuitively crafted from sound and image as the product of anything else but a single, focused mind.