Interview Assam

I like stories of passionate hearts, says Rima Das of her short film For Each Other


In an exclusive interview, the acclaimed filmmaker talks about her latest short, working with a film crew after a long time, and why she is drawn to stories of ordinary people.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

National award-winning filmmaker Rima Das is a one-woman army, working as writer, cinematographer, editor, producer and, of course, director on her projects. Her films Antardrishti (Man With The Binoculars, 2017), Village Rockstars (2018) and Bulbul Can Sing (2019) have received huge international acclaim, with Village Rockstars becoming India’s official entry to the Academy Awards in 2019.

The self-taught filmmaker’s latest, the short film For Each Other, is part of an anthology of five films by filmmakers from the BRICS countries (shorthand for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). With celebrated filmmaker Jia Zhangke as executive producer, the theme for the anthology is neighbours and includes the short films Olga's Family by Beatriz Seigner from Brazil, To Stumble by Alexander Zolotukhin from Russia, The Neighbours by Han Yan from China and Sizohlala by Jenna Bass from South Africa.

Like Das’s earlier films, For Each Other is set in a village in Assam and tells a simple story of protagonists Malti and Ramen. Malti runs a shop selling sundry items and takes care of her ailing grandfather while Ramen drives a van that is the only mode of public transport available to the villagers. The short film emphasizes the sense of community and relationships in the tightly knit society.

Understated and seemingly ordinary in its capture of everyday life, the film nonetheless marks a turbulent moment in the otherwise peaceful life of the village.

Speaking about her inspiration for the story, Das said, “When I got the theme, village life came to my mind because in villages you can mostly see the strong community feeling. Also I like it because there are conflicts, people are sometimes against each other and then, the next moment, they are supporting each other, so that’s quite interesting for me.”

The film marks a shift in Das's filmmaking process as it involved working with a crew, something she had not done for a while.

“In the beginning [while shooting the short], I was worried," Das admitted. "With my first film, I was unhappy because at that time I had a crew and I felt limited and didn’t enjoy it. With Bulbul Can Sing and Village Rockstars, I worked in solitude, I had complete freedom. [For this film], they wanted a better camera, we shot with Alexa.

"It’s not that I always want to do the cinematography of my films, because I still do not consider myself a cinematographer. But I was thinking how the non-actors would react to a big crew, lights, and I thought it might be difficult to pull out a good performance [from them].

"But I realized when I started shooting that I did not face those kind of challenges. They were comfortable and in my mind, I always wanted to work with a crew. After almost four years I worked with a crew and I think it was amazing. There were some limitations also, but it worked out.”

While shooting in solitude allows Das greater freedom and room for contemplation, having a crew on board proved to be an asset as well. “If you see Village Rockstars and For Each Other, you can see the difference in production values," the filmmaker said, "the quality of the sound and picture and sometimes you need that, so I feel like I have to balance it.

"Sometimes, when I am shooting myself, that magic happens. You wait for the sun, you wait for the light, for something to happen, and you can be there [to capture it], but when you are working with a crew, you are responsible for other people, their time. The economic part is also there, so you need to think about lots of other things, but you can’t help it, so... I think it’s better for me to work with like-minded people, with a producer who understands my style.

"There are certain stories in my mind and it is not possible for me to go alone and shoot them, so it was a good experience [with a crew].”

A still from For Each Other

In Rima Das's meditative style, For Each Other allows a glimpse into relationships, largely through gestures and silences.

One such relationship is that between Malti and her grandfather. “That was a challenging part for me, because it was just a 20 minute film and when I shot I felt that it should be 30 or 40 minutes long," she said, "but it was part of an anthology, so that time limitation was there. Within that time limit, I tried to show their bonding in two or three scenes and without dialogues. It was a bit difficult.”

The pandemic brought a pause to film shooting and enabled Das to return to her village in Assam and consider future projects. She has started shooting her next film and is, in fact, working on a couple of films simultaneously.

Speaking about the stories that captivate her, she said, “I like stories of passionate hearts, common people, whom we consider ordinary, but they are passionate to do something. Whether you are rich or poor, the conflict is always there, the struggle is always there, but with some people I can see how they are enthusiastic and how they can overcome [things] without bitterness and live life beautifully. It always inspires me.

"I also like my characters to not be perfect characters," she continued. "Mostly my films are character driven and I like to observe characters. Even if it is a small character, I like to observe and go deeper, and those characters inspire me.

"I am curious when I make my films. I look at my characters with curiosity and most of my characters are from my imagination and real life, it’s a balance.

"When I see my films," she added, "it’s such a mystery how I created these characters. In the future, maybe I will create different films and different characters, but for now I feel I am not done with [these kind of characters] yet.”

Although she is committed to making films, Rima Das has not quite given up on her original dream, of becoming an actress. “It’s easier for me to be behind [the camera]," she said, "and it [acting] is a lot of mental work. To act you need to have a free mind and I don’t have that now. It’s not that I don’t want to act. I am also looking for producers who can take on the producer’s job because that is more tiring for me. If I find good producers and my workload becomes lighter, then I can think about it. I have not given up [the dream to act] because it’s my first dream, but I’m not crazy [about it], I’m comfortable.”

For Each Other was premiered at the Pingyao International Film Festival in China and screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles in May. It is currently being screened at the International Film Festival of South Asia in Toronto, on from 12–22 August.

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