Rima Das, a self-taught film writer, producer, and director. Born and raised in a small village in Assam in northeast India, who works out of Mumbai and Assam is a name that is going to remain etched in the indie cinema panorama. I stumbled upon her work when I drew out the list of films made by women in this year’s MAMI lineup and have since been a great admirer of her work.
Her first feature ‘Man With The Binoculars’ (Antardrishti) premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2016 and also at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. In addition to writing and directing feature fiction and documentary films, she also manages a film production company called Flying River Films in Mumbai, which supports local, independent filmmaking in the region.
Village Rockstars, her second feature, had its World Premiere at Toronto Film Festival along with being in the New Directors Competition in San Sebastian, which, if I may add had the audience cheering for the longest time after the screening ended.
In this interview, Rima talks about the stories of her home, the innocence of the children in her films and all her future aspirations. Read on…
Born and brought in a beautiful village call Chhaygaon in the bank of the river Kolohi, my father Bharat Chandra Das was the founder head teacher of Chhaygaon Champak Nagar girls’ high school, retired now and my mother Jaya Das was probably the first businesswoman in our locality, running a bookstore and printing press. Although academic achievements always remained a priority, (I had to come first in the class), I was also mischievous, adventurous and creative. My younger brothers and I were brought up under strict supervision, which never worked and three of us despite pressures on studies, had played around in the river, fishing, climbing trees, making banana raft during floods. I had an eventful childhood.
I graduated with honors from Cotton College Guwahati and then achieved my Masters in Sociology from Pune University. When I was in Mumbai and finding it difficult to speak English, I regretted that I didn’t have the privilege to study in an English medium school. But now I feel so blessed that I lived with these amazing times within the village and experienced the simple, yet powerful life.
Q. You are a natural multi-tasker – there are at least 3-4 departments you personally take up in a film production, how does it work out for you – do you prefer doing everything by yourself?
I won’t call it a natural multi-tasker. Circumstances forced me to take up multiple responsibilities and there was no turning back. Lots were at stake and I had the vision to produce the best possible outcome. I don’t prefer doing everything by myself. Its hard work and highly stressful.
Q. You made a few short films before making your first feature film – would you consider that to be your film education?
Yes, short films were a starting point. Learning is a continuous process for me. Film education a lifetime journey and I get this from the plethora of films I watch regularly from all over the world. I am only beginning and I have miles to go.
The inspiration behind the story was life itself. By this, I mean looking inwardly to the various aspects of our lives and how one would have wished to change its course, but then our daily existence shapes a destiny for us and presents us with today. I tried to show this using 4 parallel stories within the film.
Q. If not for International (or national) film festivals and the recognition independent cinema gets, it is quite difficult for indie filmmakers to break into our own – right? Can you share your experience having your films screened at Cannes, and most recently the San Sebastian film festival?
I make cinema for myself first and never for the audience in mind. When I shoot I completely absorb myself in the storyline and begin to deeply relate with my characters. I won’t give up until I achieve my vision. It’s hard for the independent filmmakers I know and they must have faced many frustrations, but I never give up! About the International festivals, they will come much later. The process of creation must be 100%. Of course, once I must have satisfied myself first before I begin showcasing my work. Recognitions and experience to screen premiers at festivals like TIFF, Cannes and San Sebastian are overwhelming, gratifying and true confirmation to me, urging me to raise my standards and compete at the highest level.
Q. What do you think are/about the problems which make funding process of the film difficult and often times impossible because of the gender of the filmmaker? How did you find funding for both your films?
It is difficult to answer these questions as I have not chased funding while making both of my films. I self-funded them and friends and family helped me. I wanted to try and show that low-cost films can also be good. The story, vision and treatment matter more to me. Making an independent film as a woman in a country with deep patriarchal mindsets is never easy. But I look beyond and aspire to become good at my job. I have many ideas and I am so excited that in these coming years, I will stay true to my ideas.
Q. Could you take us through the casting process, how did you arrive at the final cast of Village Rockstars, especially working with so many children – how difficult or easy was it?
VR is a very spontaneous idea born out of my realization after returning to my village. When I was back after staying in Mumbai city for a while, one evening I stumbled upon these boys playing in a gathering with fake instruments. My journey started then. As I spent time with the children I began to know them, which helped me to add layers to VR. I kept writing and rewriting. The shooting was a continuous process for a good three and half years. Actual shoot was around 130 days during this period. It was a wonderful experience working with children. They give their 100% and we had loads of fun while shooting. Children are by nature constantly learning and this helps when you ask them to do something they would try to give you the best.
Q. What do you think about the lack of women behind the camera – in your experience of traveling to festivals abroad, do you find more women compared to India?
Filmmaking is a difficult career for women in general. Staying away from family, children and working odd hours are obvious hindrances. There are great women filmmakers around the world and I look up to them. Yes, I think there are more women working abroad, but again depends on which country! In India too, we have many talented and gifted women filmmakers and I hope we will increase our force and presence both on national and international platforms.
Q. Could you name some of your favorite women writers, directors? Of the films you’ve watched, what according to you is the most memorable film with a female protagonist?
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, Rungano Nyoni’s I am not a Witch. Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Naomi Kawase and still need to explore much more.
Q. What is your next project? Is it another Assamese magical story?
I am working on a teenage love story and the setting is the same place as Village Rockstars. Let’s see. I hope it will turn magical!