A village, a girl and the road to Oscars

Dohgaon Kalardiya is just another village in Assam, with a cast of dreamers and doers. Now, one filmmaker and a band of children are telling its story to the world.

When they first saw the boys from the neighbouring village “make music” with a guitar made of thermocol at a school function, Manabendra Das and Rinku Das thought it was the most “chaliya” (coolest) thing they had ever seen. The two young residents of Dohgaon Kalardiya village in Assam’s Chhaygaon wanted one too for their own performance at their local Bihu toli function. Manabendra, then 13, imagined how impressed their entire village would be. And 14-year-old Rinku thought to himself that this is how Zubeen da (his favourite singer) must feel when he sang on stage.

But becoming “rock stars” wasn’t that simple. They didn’t have money to buy thermocol to “make” their guitars. They didn’t even have band members. “If you want to become a rock star, you need to be at least four,” says Manabendra, matter-of-factly. That month — sometime in March 2013 — the two went around their village looking to recruit potential band members. And money to buy theromocol for their instruments. “Many were dismissive. They said ‘Ei maaxa baad de’. ‘Don’t waste your time on frivolities’,” says Manabendra.

The duo managed to collect some money, and soon they had instruments and a five-membered band: Rinku on the vocals, Bhaskar on the (thermocol) keys, Bishnu on the (thermocol) drums and Boloram and Manabendra on the (thermocol) guitar. They recorded bits of their favourite songs to make a 30-minute long medley: it had Assamese, Hindi and even Telugu tracks. “The organisers told us that we could perform for ten minutes,” recalls Rinku.

But the boys and their theatrics turned out to be such a hit that they were on stage for the full 30 minutes that evening. At the end of the show, as is the norm in many local Bihu functions, people gave them money. “We collected Rs 1,300!” says Manabendra. In the crowd, his little sister, Bhanita watched, proud of her big brother on stage.

Soon, the “band” was called for several performances around the different villages in Chhaygaon. “We called ourselves the ‘Rockstars’,” says Rinku. And on some important occasions, they would use the longer version: the Rockstar Dance Group.

In the hamlet of Dohgaon Kalardiya in Chhaygaon live 70 families. Three weeks ago, courtesy one house, they all learnt a new word: Oscar. “We now know it’s something that’s given our village a name,” says Purobi Thakuria, a 33-year-old-housewife. She admits that when she first saw Rima Das and her band of children going around the village with a camera, she wondered what they were up to. They were “shooting”, she had heard. But don’t films require bigger cameras, a crew, and glamorous actors and actresses?

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in October 2018. Full article here.