Luxury of time is what Rima Das had when she made Village Rockstars, the Assamese film that made headlines earlier this year when it won the National Award. Das took four years to make the film. She calls it an “experiment” as she’s never been professionally trained, adding she poured her heart into her pet project.
Now, as Das becomes one of the most sought-after names in contemporary Indian cinema, her new film, Bulbul Can Sing, which will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) next month, is eagerly anticipated in the circles. “TIFF is one of the most coveted film festivals globally (besides Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festivals) and it was quite surprising that Bulbul… was selected,” says Das, who missed the deadline for Cannes (March) but hurried to make the date for TIFF. “I have now realised you can’t take three-four years to make one film,” she says.
“I shot Bulbul… over two months, and edited it really fast. Each film has its own challenges — I am not saying this was easier but the fact that Village Rockstars, despite being such a shot in the dark, was so well-received, gave me confidence that things can be done differently. And can work, too,” says Das. Bulbul Can Sing is described as a coming-of-age drama about three friends, told through a young female protagonist, Bulbul. “It’s about friendship, love, loss and discovering yourself,” says Das, who insists that she never consciously tries to make “issue-based” films.
“But, inevitably, when you’re telling a story about human relationships, you’re also telling a story about issues,” she says. The human connect, which Village Rockstars (about a girl in search of an electric guitar in her village) was especially praised for, is what Das does best. “And of course, Assam is my priority,” she says, adding, “I know my people, so I feel I tell their story better.”
Like her previous films, Bulbul… is also set in an Assamese village — shot over 60 days in and around Kalardiya, Chaygaon, which is the filmmaker’s native village. Once again, Das has sourced her actors from the village — for Village Rockstars, she had taught the kids “how to act under mukoli aakax (open skies)”. “This time, it’s going to be the same, except that I have one actor who is a professional,” she says.
Having been circulated only among a handful of film festivals in India and abroad, Village Rockstars still has not been commercially released in Assam, or anywhere in India, for that matter. “I am aware many in Assam haven’t watched it but I’ve still received immense support,” says Das, adding, “Village Rockstars will have a commercial release in September.”