When she arrived in Toronto last year, young Assamese director Rima Das was an unknown filmmaker with a self-made production in the Discovery section of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Twelve months later, as she returned to TIFF with her latest project, her 2017 film, Villge Rockstars, has not only collected critical accolades but was feted across the world and deemed the Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards this spring.
In an interview, Das said the impact of TIFF on her career was “huge”.
She said, “I’m so happy that they discovered the northeast part of India. Bringing it out here in Toronto, it helped me a lot because after that, the film travelled to more than 70 festivals, winning awards. I think if the film was there somewhere (else), it might get lost.”
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Das’ follow-up feature and her third film, Bulbul Can Sing, was highly anticipated at TIFF and had a packed world premiere.
The festival’s co-head and artistic director, Cameron Bailey, was “thrilled” to welcome Das back to Toronto because, he said, “I think she’s a really remarkable talent.”
TIFF’s decision to program Village Rockstars last year certainly worked, as Bailey said, “It came into the festival as a small film, made on a very modest budget, set in a fairly remote part of India, Assam, and it really became such a phenomenon.”
With Bulbul Can Sing, Das returns to that village again, and while children were at the centre of the previous film, this time she explores the world of adolescents and the complications of that age, especially their emotional growth and sexual stirrings clashing with traditional values.
Village Rockstars was an uplifting film, but Bulbul Can Sing, also in Assamese, goes into the realm of teenage infatuation, and its often tragic consequences in a rural milieu.
Das contrasted this cast of characters led by Bulbul to the younger cohort of her previous film, and said: “There are many things that are not allowed, so of course, they are losing that freedom.”
Among those are restrictions placed on young girls expected to be modest, and moral policing. And she introduces the gay boy Sumu, taunted as “Ladies” by the villagers because of his sexuality. Tthese are the elements that make this a more mature, if darker, film.
But once again, Das delivers a touching, heartfelt film. Bailey said: “She captures the authenticity of life in her village in a way that feels so fresh. Her camera has an intimate relationship with her characters.”
Fortunately for the burgeoning number of fans of Das’ stories set in her village, there may be an encore in the offing, as she mused, “I’m thinking of a kind of a trilogy.”