Rima Das Curated

Indian Filmmaker

CURATED BY :  

This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Rima Das have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Rima Das's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming directors. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • Where do you find your inspiration from?

    Cinema. I believe cinema is magic. I watch movies a lot, especially, because I am still very new to everything and I am discovering new directors. Having said that, I definitely take inspiration from life. I observe people a lot.

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  • What advice would you give to the young and budding talents?

    This is the best time to explore. Today, even the general audience is aware and talking about film festivals across the globe. When I started, very few people knew what a film festival was. Today, everything is accessible. Now, if you have the talent and really want to make films, you just need to learn the technical know-how and then go ahead.

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  • Generally, talents from Assam are sidelined or goes undiscovered. Has that changed now?

    Things have changed for the better in the past few years. Earlier, people of Assam felt that it was out of their reach to make it big outside their state but now, after ‘Village Rockstars’ and Bhaskar Hazarika’s ‘Kothanodi’, the younger generation believes that it is possible to dream big and achieve it. I think that is important. Now, there are more independent filmmakers in the state making movies. During my time, I was told that film festivals are hard to crack. But all I can say is that my journey was independent. I am still learning every day. I feel grateful that many young independent filmmakers know my journey and are inspired by it. You have to take responsibility. I came from nothing, so did Bhaskar, who made ‘Kothanodi’ with a very low budget. We, coming from the Northeast have a responsibility to tell our stories to others.

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  • How does it feel to represent Assam at national and international film festivals?

    It really feels great. Things were unplanned and happened really quickly. I didn’t think that my films would do so well and be part of a series of film festivals. Last year, the film was part of the Berlin Film Festival and this year, I have been invited to be a jury member. I am definitely happy with how things have taken shape.

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  • What challenges do female filmmakers face in the region?

    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.

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  • Bulbul Can Sing revolves around teenagers. What drew you back to making a film with young people?

    I experienced childhood with Village Rockstars and now I wanted to have a teenage experience with Bulbul Can Sing. It is a life-changing thing for me as well. When you are working with children and teenagers, they are more transparent, more innocent, and that excites me.

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  • What inspired you to get started as a self-taught filmmaker?

    I find stories from life, people, character, situations that are floating around us. Perhaps that is why most of my stories are set in nature. People from real life come in my characters. That does not mean that I do not want to make a film with stars, rather I want to do it to grow. Directing stars would be a new challenge for me, and I will learn from it.

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  • How does it feel to win an award?

    It is very difficult to express in words. It’s so inspiring for every young or new filmmaker to show that it is possible. Most of the time, we get the feeling that it is not possible and our dreams are too big.

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  • Whose and what kind of cinema do you admire the most?

    I draw inspiration from Wong Kar-wai, Majid Majidi and our very own Satyajit Ray. I learn by watching their films. Ingmar Bergman and Quentin Tarantino have also influenced me. I spend hours watching films. Even while working on my projects, I take time out to watch films. This relaxes me. Also at festivals like TIFF, Cannes, Tallinn, and MAMI, although I network where possible, I do make sure to watch at least three to four films a day.

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  • What was the inspiration of your career?

    In India, we feel like we are ordinary people who dream big. Life changed in a way that I feel like now, the journey I started 4-5 years ago is possible. You can dream and if you really believe in your vision and style, it is possible. I also learned there is no rule for filmmaking or art. If you are telling stories from your heart, then people connect with it. Studios are now approaching me; they want to make movies with me. It is very inspiring.

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  • The performances were so naturalistic in "Village Rockstar". Was there any improvisation?

    It was 99% scripted. There was improvisation in only a few scenes. It is a fiction not a documentary. This is my second movie and what I learned from my first film is when it’s a fiction, you have to be very careful about the dialogue and the scenes and how you get to the climax. The actor in me helped because from my childhood I wanted to be an actor. In the writing process, I wrote and said the lines myself so the actors could be very comfortable. I used easy dialogue so they could easily deliver it. That was my main motive, to make them comfortable and confident.

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  • How was the collaboration with the child actors in "Village Roclstar"? Were you able to draw on any film references to direct them?

    It was extraordinary. They are exposed to cinema but those children aren’t very aware of films. There was some kind of driving force guiding us. They stayed with me for almost 4 years and I simply told them they are very special and if they just believe in me and the process, something good would happen. We had a special bond. Sometimes their parents couldn’t understand but I think it was magical.

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  • India is known for having a very active film industry in terms of the volume of films being made. What was your experience in getting this film funded and completed?

    I came to Mumbai to become an actor. When I decided to make movies and I was back in my village, I bought a Canon 5D Mark II camera. During my acting days I found it very fascinating and handy. And that’s how, with a small crew, I made my first film. When I started making “Village Rockstars” and met these beautiful children, I didn’t want to lose this opportunity. When I was doing my first film there were too many limitations. I am a self-taught filmmaker, I haven’t gone to film school. So actually, this film is also kind of a film school for me. I saved a little money I had and my family helped. It actually took me 4 years. I made this film all alone and my little sister Malika helped me in almost every department. And the children who acted in the film also became a part of the crew themselves. It was a very organic learning process for me.

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  • Which filmmakers inspire you?

    After I watched Satyajit Ray’s films, I thought, ‘Wow, even I can go to my village and make movies’. Majid Majidi, Wong Kar-wai, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Abbas Kiarostami… I have watched movies of filmmakers from different regions. Every one has their own style.

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  • Growing up, were you a Bollywood buff?

    My family was very strict. I remember we would start watching films on a Saturday and the lights would go away! For us, whatever movie we could watch, would make us happy. I remember watching Madhubala, Sharmila Tagore, Dilip Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Mithun on screen… there was no luxury of picking a favourite.

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  • Which are your favourite Hindi movies of all time?

    Mughal-e-Azam! I like old movies. I like Shyam Benegal’s Mandi, Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.

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  • You feel that the dreams shift somewhere?

    Yes, it shifted no doubt. And it happened very spontaneously. Not like, ‘Oh, I couldn’t become an actress, so let’s be a director’. I even acted in my first feature film. But then I realised that because I was acting, I couldn’t do justice to my film. I don’t have that kind of a crew where there are five-six assistant directors to handle things. I did not have that luxury. I realised I should concentrate on direction and now I’m so occupied and involved in creating something new, challenging myself. It’s not that I don’t want to act but maybe later. I don’t consider myself a great actor when I look at the others performing.

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  • Has life completely changed for your family and you?

    It has. I am more confident. When you start, you’re just doing it but that time I did not know if people would accept my style or the way I tell my stories. I think I’ve travelled to almost 80 film festivals around the world. And it’s not only critics or cinema lovers around festivals… it released in Assam and other cities and cinema-going people also liked it. It’s not a structured movie, there’s no background score… so it’s very surprising for me.

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  • Why are all your films set in your village in Assam?

    It’s not intentional. Even after living for so many years in Bombay, I’m homesick. I like to be around fresh air, food cooked by my mom.... I also see so many stories there, I can’t help it.

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  • Do you think it’s necessary for a filmmaker to have technical knowledge?

    It’s very difficult to say. But I think, although I’m doing it, I’m not there just like that. I’m also studying, watching lots of movies, reading interviews, watching YouTube to know how to do cinematography, the importance of lights…. Apart from that, I follow my intuition and vision. You need to learn the basic techniques but ultimately, it’s the emotion.

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  • You’re a self-taught filmmaker and a one-woman crew — you directed, shot, edited, produced and also did the production design of the film. How did you manage to don so many hats?

    How do I do it? I don’t know. I just want to do it, so I do it. I also did not know that I’ll make a feature film alone… I didn’t even imagine. But I made it. Sometimes your limitations are your strengths. I wanted to feel liberated without the pressure of any outer control. I wanted to make movies my way without taking money from others. At the session after the screening of Bulbul Can Sing at MAMI, you admitted that some of the completely out-of-focus shots in the film were intentional and some were not, because you’re not a professional cinematographer. That’s a refreshing thing to hear... Yes, because some moments are so important that whether it is in focus or out of focus, it finally doesn’t matter. Of course, cinematography is a technical job. It is a 95-minute movie and if there are five shots that are out of focus, I don’t think it matters. I don’t consider myself a cinematographer. I’m just doing it for my love for cinema.

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  • Village Rockstars also won the National Award in four categories. Did you expect it would garner this kind of a response from around the globe?

    Not the National Award! Our industry is so different with so many languages. You have mainstream movies competing with independent, regional films. I was looking at big festivals like TIFF, Cannes… it was always my dream to be there. But the National Award and the Oscars entry… I didn’t know it’d come so early.

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  • Has life for the people in your village changed after Village Rockstars?

    We get attention in a very different way. Otherwise for me, life is nice, it’s fine… it’s the same.

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  • What was the genesis of Bulbul Can Sing?

    It wasn’t anything in particular. It was a combination of many things and layers… understanding life, my experiences with life, friendships that I’ve seen in my life and others’ lives.

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  • How long did you take to shoot Bulbul Can Sing?

    It took one year. But I worked mostly in the last five months. My process of working is very different… it takes long to be there, to develop the story, write, research. This one was a complex subject. I wanted to look at a dark subject from different perspectives.

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  • Were you expecting "Village Rockstar"to be a mega success?

    When I was making this film, I knew it was a great subject and there was a lot of honesty in it. I did expect it to do good. When it got selected for the Toronto film festival, I was not surprized. But yes, the amount of love and recognition it has been getting has left be very very happy and surprized.

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  • You have been very hands on with the making of the film. From writing to directing to being involved at each step. Was it a conscious step?

    Yes, in many ways it was. I wanted to tell a story the way I felt it and for this it was important that I was involved in each step. There were many things that happened organically too but I did take charge of many aspects. I was also confident having made short films plus we were making a film under not very lavish budgets so we had to also adjust according to many things. The children who were a part of the story, had schools to attend and we had to adjust our routines accordingly. In a way it helped that I was involved at various stages as we could then move around schedules accordingly.

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  • What sort of reception, Indian films get on international circuits?

    I have had very encouraging and ;positive experiences. Everyone is very supportive of a good story and is there is a lot to learn from everyone you meet. As a film maker taking my film on an international podium I would say I am overwhelmed with support.

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  • What is your debut film, “The Man with a Binoculars,” about?

    It’s the story of Chaudhury, a retired geography teacher whose life changes after his son gifts him a pair of binoculars. das man with bino posterChaudhury always dreamt of travelling the world with his wife but did not have the time nor money. The binoculars gets him hooked and he is always peering into the Nature around, while lamenting over the many boats he missed in life. The seed for this story came to me at a friend’s place, where I noticed a binocular that belonged to his father. It intrigued me. To me the binocular is a metaphor for the bitter reality of human loneliness, struggles, regrets, differences, our constant desire to control others and our surroundings, and our lack of perspective where small things perceived through the binocular of our consciousness makes it excessively large while we ignore the big right in front of us.

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  • Tell us about your film dreams.

    I arrived in Mumbai aspiring to become an actor. Living in Assam, I knew nothing of World Cinema. But in Mumbai I became exposed to them and slowly I considered directing films rather than acting. What boosted my morale was a short film that I made in 2009 which was officially selected at the Chicago short film festival.

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  • Writing, directing, camera and editing, how did you handle all?

     I really don’t know. It just happened. We shot the film under real conditions- during the rains and floods. Besides, I was shooting this while doing my first film, so there was no fund either. I tapped into my own pocket. My cousin Mallika and the child actors were a great support and motivation.

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  • Were there moments when you felt like quitting?

    Of course, there have been frustrating moments. The children are first generation learners. Their parents work as daily wage labourers. Sometimes they would not allow the children to come for shooting. I interacted with them and helped them with their needs.

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  • You have worked with newcomers. How did you prepare them?

    First I conducted an acting workshop for the children. Then I went about clicking their pictures, quite randomly actually. There was no script then. And, I was working on my first film. In between this work, when time allowed, the writing process began.

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  • What is this story of "Village Rockstar"?

    Ten year-old Dhunu, lives with her widowed mother in a remote village of Assam (India). While her mother struggles to make ends meet, Dhunu (a tomboy) dreams of forming a rock band with her boy friends. Her mother raises her with steadfast determination, giving her full freedom of expression and encouraging her to fulfill her dreams. After her father’s death, her mother realizes that it is important that a girl should be qualified herself. But beyond the poverty and nature’s fury when their village is flooded, Dhunu has to combat societal restrictions once she attains puberty. Does Dhunu achieve her simple dream? Or like hundreds of girls in similar situations across the world, will she have to forego her dreams?

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  • How did ‘Village Rockstars’ happen?

    During the Assamese New Year festival in 2014 I attended a local gathering in my native village. I was shooting my first film and I happened to notice this little girl who was pretending to play on a guitar. I loved the way she was carrying an imaginary instrument. Her energy was remarkable. She was my first inspiration to write this story. I hailed her and the boys she was playing with and told them that I wished to make a film with them. After that, every time I visited my village, the children would ask me about the film. It is their persistence that led to the making of “Village Rockstars.”

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  • Do you have a wish list of stars that you are eager to collaborate with?

    Will I get the access to Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Akshay Kumar? Aamir Khan? You see, the list is long and heavy, I am telling you!

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  • What kind of stories do you want to tell to your budding audience?

    I find stories from life, people, character, situations that are floating around us. Perhaps that is why most of my stories are set in nature. People from real life come in my characters. That does not mean that I do not want to make a film with stars, rather I want to do it to grow. Directing stars would be a new challenge for me, and I will learn from it.

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  • Do you believe the Indian audience is becoming more receptive towards experimental cinema?

    I could not have imagined myself gaining such visibility of my work a few years ago, if the internet wasn't there. Social media and other OTT platforms are giving us the chance to connect to people, to travel to film festivals.

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  • Did you ever imagine that within two years of your journey as a filmmaker, your film "Village Rockstars" will be India's entry for an Oscar category or "Bulbul Can Sing" will get a houseful screening at the 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival?

    It looks like a fairy tale because when the first screening of my debut film 'Man With The Binocular: Antardrishti' happened here in MAMI, I was so worried to gain the audience and thought if people will come to watch my film. I was keeping my fingers crossed that at least the first few rows of the auditorium was filled with people, if not a houseful one. Honestly, I do not want to look back at those days and I'd rather focus on my upcoming project. I do not have time to feel nostalgic about my early days. Though I worked hard, I would say I am fortunate that I got the right exposure to build my audience.

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  • Do you think that your achievements as a filmmaker will make it more difficult for your acting career?

    I do not think it is that easy. I believe that to become a performer, one needs some 'me time', which I do not have these days. Acting is a performing art where certain exercise, not just physical but emotional as well, is needed. Earlier I used to take care of myself, my skin, hair and worked on performance.

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  • You came to Mumbai to be an actor but you ended up being a filmmaker. Do you still think about acting?

    If someone is coming up with a good script, I am actually interested to act. My desire for acting is still there... But who is going to write a character for me?

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  • Can intelligent cinema like this be a box-office success in India?

    There is a market in the digital box office. Audiences nowadays are looking for intelligent cinema online and I hope I will be able to keep them entertained.

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  • What was the budget for "Village Rockstars"?

    It was a shoestring budget. I think I spent about 30 lakhs over four years, and that includes my living expenses.

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  • Why did you go back to Assam to make your debut film?

    Coming from a remote village in the North-East and growing up before the internet and even satellite TV, I knew nothing of world cinema. I came to Mumbai to explore my talents as an actor and here I got exposed to the larger film universe. My interest soon veered towards film-making. After watching films from across the world I realised it will be best to tell stories about a locality I am familiar with. I like to go deep into my characters. So I thought home will be the best place to start. Again, working in these two films has been like attending a film school. And I knew it will take a long time to finish them. Therefore, being in my village where I had access to home-cooked meals by my mother was the best option!

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  • Most important lessons learnt and biggest challenge?

    I am still new to film-making. Yes, my second film made waves around the world and now people ask me for advice, they ask me about my trials and tribulations. I have to remind myself daily to stay focused, humbled and grateful. This is a long exciting journey, one that I hope to discover meaning in. I would, therefore, stay away from giving advice. I want to remain true to an idea and believe in myself and I want to strive to retain this can-do attitude always.

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  • Whose and what kind of cinema do you admire the most?

    I draw inspiration from Wong Kar-wai, Majid Majidi and our very own Satyajit Ray. I learn by watching their films. Ingmar Bergman and Quentin Tarantino have also influenced me. I spend hours watching films. Even while working on my projects, I take time out to watch films. This relaxes me. Also at festivals like TIFF, Cannes, Tallinn and MAMI , although I network where possible, I do make sure to watch at least three to four films a day.

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  • You’ve shot in challenging situations —  like a flood — and with no professional help or expertise. So the whole process was very organic and a break from both masala themes and commercial systems of working. What are your motivations?  

    Looking back, those were difficult times and required extreme hard work and patience. As the story was about children growing up in these amazing surroundings and with these challenges, I had to use all the elements of nature to give a true and authentic meaning to my story. I can’t say whether I will continue to work this way. It will all depend on the story and its requirement. I strive for authenticity.

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  • You’ve shot in challenging situations —  like a flood — and with no professional help or expertise. So the whole process was very organic and a break from both masala themes and commercial systems of working. What are your motivations?  

    Looking back, those were difficult times and required extreme hard work and patience. As the story was about children growing up in these amazing surroundings and with these challenges, I had to use all the elements of nature to give a true and authentic meaning to my story. I can’t say whether I will continue to work this way. It will all depend on the story and its requirement. I strive for authenticity.

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  • Will we see you only in regional cinema?

    No, I don’t want to restrict myself. I am open to making films in other languages too.

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  • On labels like ‘women-centric’ and ‘offbeat’ cinema…how do you personally categorise your own films?

    Both my films have been non-commercial. I am used to independent and realistic cinema. Yes, women-centric is a powerful idea that I liked capturing in Village Rockstars. My first film was not women-centric. The main theme revolved around an exploration of life. In fact, here in VR too I tried to show that life is full of possibilities and that one can always dream no matter where one comes from. So, in a way, my films are about life and how I see it.

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  • Do you find the industry to be sexist?

    Being an independent film-maker, I was peripherally attached to the industry. Therefore, I never faced any of these challenges. Later in Mumbai during post-production, I found my technicians and engineers to be most professional and they did a good job.

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  • You’ve been called a one-woman army. Why did you decide to do it all on your own?

    I had no option but to do everything on my own. I had run out of money while making Antardrishti: Man With The Binoculars, my first feature film. So, when I started filming Village Rockstars I didn’t have the money to engage professionals. Besides, VR is a story about children, by children. This was a tough project. Working with non-actors, especially children who have never acted before, I knew I would need to spend time with them, feel their energy and conduct extensive workshops. This meant I couldn’t have a tight schedule in place. If I had engaged professionals, I would have naturally had to limit this exploration within a time frame and that would mean compromising on many aspects. The story began to develop as I started shooting, therefore I guess I needed the flexibility and freedom.

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  • How about an out-and-out commercial feature film? Is that on your mind? 

    I’m really excited to shoot my own films. Also, commercial films, yes definitely I want to do commercial films but right now, I’m really enjoying this. 

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  • Tell us a little bit about Bulbul Can Sing.

    So, the movie is about these three friends, their friendship, first love and how they are lost and are finding themselves. It is a beautiful journey. It’s also a very complicated and delicate age, the teenage years, going through those physical changes and we also live in a patriarchal society so they face many problems. There is also a gap between young people and elders. I’m trying to say so many things and this is the age where they are exploring their youth and sexual identity.

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  • What is it like to direct non-professional actors? How easy or difficult is it to extract performances? 

    It’s not difficult or easy. It is your belief and your vision and I like non-professional actors because they don’t judge you and they completely surrender. The trust factor is there and that really helps me. In Bulbul Can Sing, Pakija Begum also did a role and she is a professional actor and it all represents the story.  Village Rockstars took me three and a half years to make and Bulbul Can Sing took me one year. So it is always better with non-professional actors as their availability is easy, they are there. When I’m training them, I don’t look at them as professional or non-professional. In the end, they are human beings and how they emote themselves is important and I like natural acting. So it doesn’t matter. 

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  • Two of your films have been screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). What is it like screening your films at such prestigious festivals and what do you get out of it?

    It’s great, wonderful. I think it is every filmmaker’s dream that your movie goes to Cannes and Toronto, Berlin and Venice. Fortunately, Village Rockstars was in Toronto, then Bulbul Can Sing was in Toronto, it was in Berlin Film Festival, so it was a big moment for us. Going there, it’s mainly a networking event. Going to Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Berlin and Venice, they have a big co-production market and you can meet a lot of different people from different countries. So you also meet like-minded people and great audience and also, they have big theatres, where people come in and appreciate your work and applaud. It is lots of energy and even if I am not there as a presenter, like this time I was in Toronto but I like the energy. It always inspires me to make another film. 

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  • Man with the Binoculars, Village Rockstars and now, Bulbul Can Sing. All your movies have English titles but are Assamese movies. Any specific reason?

    Man with the Binoculars also had an Assamese name, Antardrishti. Now, I come from a very independent production house, and mostly we don’t have manpower and I am handling everything myself. So when I look at it, the market is very global and I’m definitely making Assamese movies. So for anyone watching, that authenticity is there but when you need to market the film, it is easier when you have an English name and it really helps me reach out to a wider audience. That is one reason. And apart from that, when I was thinking about my first film, Man with the Binoculars, I was able to think of Antardrishti. But for Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing, I did not find the perfect Assamese equivalent for the two titles. And the name Bulbul Can Sing sounded so good too. 

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  • What was your experience of "Bulbul Can Sing"?

    It was, of course, a dream. But raising money for promotions was hard — something I didn’t enjoy even one bit. I have always been fiercely independent and self-sufficient, but suddenly I realised that I needed tons of money for the promotions in the Oscars race. But then again, this wasn’t just my dream any more, a lot of people had their hopes pinned on it. That is when I sort of got out of my usual character, and put myself out there to raise money.

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  • Like ‘Village Rockstars’, 'Bulbul Can Sing' was also written, shot, directed and edited by you. Was the process any easier?

    Let me say it was easier, but harder too. Easier in the sense that making ‘Village Rockstars’ was a struggle — I had no money, took several breaks, had to borrow from family. For ‘Bulbul’, I put in all the money I earned from ‘Village Rockstars’. While money was not such a problem this time, I had to really rush through it — I had started working on it when ‘Village Rockstars’ was in post-production. I had to travel all the time. And yes, later the Oscars happened too.

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  • Do you ever feel worried that audiences won’t take to the topics you portray?

    After Village Rockstars, I realised that we underestimate our audience. They are more than ready for these kinds of films. On social media, I see people writing posts on Bulbul — even more than Village Rockstars. They delve into the characters and I learn so much from these posts. Maybe people find it relatable. When I made this film, I made it for India, not just for Assam.

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  • Neither ‘Village Rockstars’ nor ‘Bulbul’ has background music. Was that a conscious decision?

    It was only when I started shooting in Assam that I understood the value of sound. I understood that ambient sound was already telling its own story. That is why I never felt the need to use music in my films. But then again, I am not against putting music in my films — I just found it an exciting challenge to bring out emotions without using music in films.

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  • Drawing the line — is that something you have to do since you work so often with non-professional actors?

    Absolutely. Most of them come from the village. They continue to live in the village after the film is made. They probably won’t become actors when they grow up. So as a director, I have a sense of responsibility towards them. If they were professional actors, you can push them since that’s their job. Here I would keep reiterating that they do only what they were comfortable with — whether it was a physically intimate scene, or one they have to cry in.

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