Review: Village Rockstars should have got a foreign-language Oscar nomination

Rima Das’s stunning, poetic film set in a rural Indian village looks at a girl who dreams of owning a guitar

VILLAGE ROCKSTARS (Rima Das). 87 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 1) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West). See listing. Rating: NNNN

India’s submission for the Oscars’ foreign-language film category didn’t end up making the cut, but I’d take it over Roma (or Cold War, or Capernaum or Never Look Away) any day.

Like Roma, the much humbler Village Rockstars is built with stunning and poetic images while tethered to those from less fortunate circumstances. But as opposed to holding a distanced and sympathetic perspective over its subject, Rima Das’s doc-like film gets down in the grass with 10-year-old Dhunu as she blissfully frolics through her rural village and stubbornly refuses to give up on her dreams.

The director’s cousin, non-actor Bhanita Das, is vibrant and soulful as Dhunu, who hangs with the local boys determined to form a rock band. They carve out pretend instruments from styrofoam while plotting how they can scrape together the rupees to purchase the real things. They also pass the time climbing trees or sinking into the marsh, Das’s camera capturing them as lively extensions of nature.

The near plotless, almost languid narrative simply follows the rhythms of Dhunu’s days, which are occasionally disturbed by patriarchal standards enforced by local women. Those women feel a girl has no business hanging with boys and scaling trees.

Their standards are gently rebuked by the young girl’s strong-willed and nurturing mother (Basanti Das, Bhanita’s actual mother) who couldn’t give two fucks about impractical social norms not when she’s grinding daily to scrape together dinner and raising a free-spirited child to rely on her own strengths.

The film cozies up to that constant and warm encouragement between mother and child and their refusal to be crushed by their environment.


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