I saw the binoculars both as a character and a metaphor – Rima Das
A one-woman army is the best way to describe Assamese filmmaker Rima Das. She came to Mumbai seven years ago with dreams of becoming an actor. But little did she know that she’ll soon turn into a director, producer, writer and editor. Das whose film Antardrishti (Man with the Binoculars) was screened at the Marche du film 2016 (Market Premiere) of the 69th Cannes De festival was also the official selection in the India Story section at the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star.
In a chat with Pandolin, Das talks about the journey of her debut feature film Antardrishti as well as her second film Village Rockstars for which she is currently looking for a co-producer to complete the post-production.
What inspired the script of Antardrishti?
I hail from a small village in North East. I didn’t know anything about world cinema till I came to Mumbai to become an actor, around seven years ago. When I made my first short film in 2009, surprisingly, it was selected at the Chicago Short Film Festival. That is how my journey as a filmmaker began.
Coming to Antardrishti, one day I was at a friend’s place and saw a pair of binoculars, which he was planning to give to his retired father. I started writing the script from my own imagination. I saw the binoculars both as a character and a metaphor. I was intrigued by the idea of a man using binoculars to bring the women around him closer, to bring his past into perspective and through all of this, trying to control the present and change the future.
The story is about a retired geography teacher who is the main protagonist armed with binoculars. He struggles to bring his past into perspective even as the present of the poetic landscape around him watches him with impassioned eyes. The film uses four loves stories to talk about various things, including patriarchy – abject and indirect – which men inflict upon women and how that shapes the narrative of our cultures.
How long did it take you to pen down the script and then bring it on screen.
I’m a self-taught filmmaker and have never even assisted anyone. I have learned filmmaking by watching films. When I was exposed to world cinema, I loved it. While studying the world market, I understood that language is not a barrier anymore. I believe in the ‘eat local and think global’ philosophy and made the film with the same approach. So, if anyone from any part of the world watches my film, they can easily connect to the subject and emotions.
Antardrishti is entirely produced by my family and me, because of which I was concerned about the cost. Then I realized that I understand the people, culture and landscape of my village properly. To make a film in my village and with my people was the best way to help me make the film in less money. I feel like in the last four years, I have lived four lifetimes, dying and being reborn again and again. Since I produced the film with my own money and those borrowed from family and friends, my funds would dry up rapidly. However, I was also adamant to not have external producers because this being my first film, I was not only possessive about it, but I needed the freedom to follow my vision without compromising on my script. In these years, I have had to take on many small projects in Mumbai; corporate videos, wedding films, music videos etc. to earn enough money to survive and fund my film.
With little money, a tiny team and crew, the four years it has taken to make this film seem like an improbable journey.
Having produced the film yourself, how do you think you’ll recover the money?
I really don’t know. But I’m quite happy that the film got selected at MAMI. It is also part of the official selection at Tallin Black Nights Film Festival in the first feature category with 13 other films from all over the world. Antardrishti is the only film competing from India. Tallinn is one of the top 15 festivals in the world as per the International Federation of Film Producers Association. I’m hopeful that after going there, the film might find a sales agent or a distributor. As of now, I’m handling everything myself.
Also Antardrishti is a very personal film and I was making it keeping in mind how I would feel as an audience. I kept thinking that there are many people in the world who might think like me and they’ll like the film. The youngsters who have seen the film at MAMI really liked it so I know that if I release the film, I will get an audience.
What is it that you want viewers to take back from the film?
I want people to be happy and come out of the theatres with a positive message. They should feel that one needs to concentrate more on one’s life than on the lives of others. The film makes one understand the feeling of letting go.
What challenges lay in getting the casting right for the film?
It was actually difficult. Bishnu Kharghariya is the main protagonist. While watching a few movies from Assam, I got to know about him and wanted to cast him. In the middle of the writing process, I called him and he agreed to be part of the film. 90% of my film is about him but there are many other characters, whom I cast in barely 10 days. Those characters are a mix of professional and non-actors. It was not easy but honestly speaking, I feel that some power has helped me in getting everything right. I had a tough time doing everything but I managed. In fact, I’ve even acted in the film.
The Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star featured four Assamese films by filmmakers Jaicheng Jai Dohutia, Bobby Sarma Barauh, Haobam Paban Kumar and you. It is providing a great platform to promote talent from Assam. Your thoughts?
I’m really happy about the representation of Assamese filmmakers at MAMI. Along with this, I’m also glad that Assamese filmmakers are also supporting each other. Because of social media, it is easy for people to get information about the festivals. So after coming to the festivals, we are looking for audiences who will be interested in watching our films. Such platforms will really help independent Assamese filmmakers.
After turning director with this film, will acting take a backseat?
I’m going to take both direction and acting seriously. I’m also ready with my next film Village Rockstar, which is again shot in my village and doesn’t have any crew. From camera to direction, production to edit etc; everything was done by me. Only my cousin sister and villagers helped me with it. The story of Village Rockstar is inspired by incidents from my own rural upbringing. It features all non-actors. I shot this film for more than 80 days in two years. It is shot in a documentary style but it is more of fiction. I have sent it to the NFDC Film Bazaar Work-In-Progress Lab. I also mentioned it while filling the form for the Tallin Black Nights Film Festival. They also seem interested in it.
I’ve done everything till the edit. But now I need money for the post-production. That is something that I may not able to do. Therefore I’m looking for a co-producer.