VILLAGE ROCKSTARS (2018)

  • Release Date: 28/9/18
  • Cast: Bhanita Das, Basanti Das, Boloram Das, Rinku Das, Bishnu Kalita, Manabendra Das
  • Director: Rima Das

Rima Das’  Village Rockstars chronicles the journey of Dhunu (Bhanita Das), her elder brother, her mother (Basanti Das) and her friends as their lives move through the seasons with Dhunu dreaming of forming a rock band with her brother and friends. However, her dreams constantly keep coming up against roadblocks in the form of poverty, flood, a hypocritical society and at the end of it all puberty. What is left at the end of it all is her indomitable spirit and her ability to be constantly enthralled by her life and the topography that she is growing up in.

Village Rockstars is episodic in nature. It doesn’t have much of what can be called a story but is made up of poignant and aesthetically rewarding sequences that not only shows us the village life of the kids from a voyeuristic angle but also lets us understand what it is that drives them. This is an exceptionally well-shot film that is polished only to an extent that doesn’t meddle with the realistic feel and mood of the film. The milieu is captured in its entirety with organic visuals and brimming essence of life. The kids running around the village un-shackled, small details like Dhunu caressing her hands against grass or peddling her way through the water, Dhunu and her friends standing still in front of a house ravaged by flood and thinking about what might have happened to its residents against a stark background. The list would go on and on. Suffice is to say that cinematographically, Village Rockstar is flawless.

This is a highly performance-driven film. Had it not been for the performances this film would be difficult to sit through. Bhanita Das turns in a subtle, poignant and haunting performance that would be hard to shrug off even after the film is over. I am guessing that she has never acted before and the kind of realism and vitality that she brings to her character feels fresh in a manner that points to a first time reverence. Ditto can be said about Basanti Das who plays her mother. They both get the intonation, the feel and the mannerism of the characters perfectly right. When Basanti Das tells her daughter about how her father died, she doesn’t break out in tears in an overly dramatic fashion. But one can easily see and feel the sense of morose in her eyes and her mannerism. In a similar fashion, Bhanita Das doesn’t wail out loud when her favorite goat is lost. Instead, tear trickles down her cheeks and she gives out nothing but a somber cry for her goat.

Village Rockstar becomes great because of these little sequences. There is also a lot of comedy which arises out of the banter between the children. I was almost rolling on the floor laughing when the children called for a “ban on floods” with typical regionalist clamors. There is another extremely funny sequence when a boy tries to gently flirt with Dhunu during the celebrations for her attaining puberty. It must be noted that all these sequences will only appeal to people who are accustomed to the milieu and the socio-cultural feel of the place that the film unfolds in. Hence it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Village Rockstars is for a niche audience.

Now I come to a part which I believe, the majority of the people who are basking in the glory of the film from this region will hate me for and I would understand their backlash. I have the same issue with Village Rockstar that I had with a film like Pather Panchali (which is widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian films ever made). It may be the case that I have not grown up enough to have a taste as refined as is needed to fully understand this film and be entertained by it but the truth remains that even at 1 hour 21 minutes, I found myself checking my watch atleast trice before the end credits rolled. I was not intrigued by this film. Neither was I transfixed to it.

To me, the best of films are the ones that entertain us as well as enlighten us. Village Rockstars enlightens us but doesn’t necessarily entertain us. I have no issues with a film with ambiguity but if it’s a film like this which starts in the middle and ends without any closure that I have a problem with. Cinema is an objective medium and I wouldn’t be surprised if no one agrees with me about this one but I am hoping that there will be atleast one person who would. I hated “Moonlight” and “Call Me By Your Name” which proved to be huge award circuit favorites. I believe Village Rockstars could just be the first Indian film to clinch an Oscar (Best Foreign film) but that wouldn’t stop me from calling it out loud that it lacks entertainment quotient which would definitely rob it of repeat viewing pleasure.

Village Rockstars is a true art house film that will find takers among audiences who view cinema as a medium to experiment with the form and structure. With its ambiguity and lack of straightforward storytelling, it will also be liked by the lovers of minimalistic representation of a story through episodes and not so much a laid out screenplay. This is a film about tragedy, poverty, and hope which will draw parallels with Italian Neo-realism characterized by films like The Bicycle Thief but it does lack the entertainment quotient of that film. It will appeal to a niche audience and in all eventualities will sweep most of the awards that it goes to.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)   

 

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