Just an hour after the news breaks that her film Village Rockstars is India’s official selection for the Oscars’ Foreign Language category, indianexpress.com, reaches out to Rima Das. She excitedly answers the phone not with a hello but a “Thank you thank you thank you!” There isn’t much to say, but that this is probably the day the filmmaker had been waiting for all her life.
A 12-membered jury — led by Mr SV Rajendra Singh Babu — announced the film, shot on a handheld camera and a shoe-string budget in rural Assam, as the official contender for Oscars 2019 in the Best Foreign Language Film category on Saturday morning.
But Das told indianexpress.com that she received “hints of the news” last night itself. “Of course, I couldn’t say anything then but today has to be the happiest day of my life.” The self-taught filmmaker, who is currently at her village, Kalardiya, in Assam’s Chaygaon, added: “I just happened to be home — and what timing to receive this news. Right now I’m celebrating with my family, friends and the cast”
Village Rockstars was made over four years, shot on a handheld camera, and used a cast of non-actors, sourced almost in totality, from the village of Kalardiya. The movie, which won the National Award for Best Film earlier this year, follows the story of a ten-year-old girl (played by child actor Bhanita Das) with dreams to form her own rock band, who goes in search of an electric guitar in her village
In an earlier interview to The Indian Express, Das had said “I did not have any storyboard for Village Rockstars. Since there was no crew, I did not use any artificial light. I shot in the magic light — in the morning and afternoon when the sunlight is not harsh. All the actors, barring well-known Assamese actor Kulada Bhattyacharya, who appears as a wise man, are from my village. And they literally learned how to act under mukoli aakax (open skies).”
29 films from Indian including Raazi, Padmaavat Hichki, October, Love Sonia, Gulabjaam, Mahanati, Pihu, Kadvi Hawa, Bhogda, Revaa, Bioscopewala, Manto, 102 Not out, Padman, Bhayanakam, Ajji, Nude, Gali Guliiyan were submitted as nominations.
A few countries have already announced their candidates for the prestigious prize. While Lebanon has selected Capharnaum, Indonesia picked the feminist neo-western flick Marlina the Murder In Four Acts for the 91st Academy Awards. Norway, in fact, chose Iram Haq’s What Will People Say — whose protagonist is incidentally actor Adil Husain, also from small-town Assam — as its official entry.
For the 2018 Oscars, Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi starrer Newton had been pitched for the top honour. However, the Amit Masurkar film failed to make the cut. It did not even make it to the list of the final nine films picked for the voting round. As far as India is concerned, only three films until now have made it till the last round and were, as a result, nominated in the foreign language film category – Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988), and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001).
For Assam, the entry is already making waves — this is the first time an Assamese film has received such global — even national — attention. “It is a big deal because when you don’t receive recognition, you feel things are not possible. It stops people from trying. Such news makes me feel that things are possible,” said Das, whose new film Bulbul Can Sing premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.
The 91st Academy Awards is scheduled to be held on February 24, 2019.
With inputs from Tora Agarwala in Guwahati.