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How the pandemic affected filmmaker Rima Das’ latest film

by Stewart Cole

His last film Rima Das, Tora’s husband, marks her return to familiar surroundings – her neighborhood in Assam’s Chhaygaon – under unfamiliar circumstances. Unsettled after being isolated in Mumbai during the first lockdown, when Das returned home in 2020, she spent about a month carefully observing how the lives around her had changed. The buzz of everyday life has been replaced by uncertainty and worry in this small town. Although Das initially set out to write it as a family drama, the feature film eventually became an insightful account of adapting to new realities as livelihoods are lost and relationships turn sour.

Over the years, Das has established herself as a talented director, deftly handling various responsibilities such as direction, script, cinematography and editing. And here, he repeats that feat. However, with her fourth feature, Das departs thematically from her previous two outings — widely acclaimed Village Rockstars (2017) and Bulbul Can Sing (2018) — which had teen and teenage leads. “This time, I wanted to deal with grown-up characters, to have a protagonist who is exposed to a bigger world and has faced bigger concerns,” says the National Award-winning director, explaining why she chose a different vibe for her new one. work, even though the world of her films remains the same.

Although Tora’s husband’s narrative was basically inspired by trials and tribulations faced by the small town’s residents during the pandemic, Dash worked to find an emotional core and develop the characters’ fictional journey. In the midst of loss and lockdown, the protagonist Jaan tries to stay positive and support others. But it’s hard to combat the effects of a sluggish economy. He ends up juggling his business performance and strained personal relationships. “There were quite a few improvisations and tweaks to the script as the shoot progressed,” says Das. Some of these changes were necessitated by the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Other changes were made keeping in mind the cast, which consisted mostly of non-actors, as with all Das’ films.

Heading the cast is Abhijit Das as the sensitive and troubled Jaan. He also happens to be the writer-director’s brother. “I had shot something earlier with him that didn’t work out for me. This time, however, he was perfect for the role of a small-town restaurateur struggling to keep his business afloat as well as provide for his family,” says the director-writer. The choice of casting, which also included several locals, also worked logistically.

A snapshot of Torah’s husband

Through her unique method of grooming and nurturing local talent, Das has in the past elicited compelling performances from the casts of Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing, especially from those essaying the lead characters Dhunu (Bhanita Das) and Bulbul (Arnali Das), respectively. Such convincing performances come from working closely with the actors over a period of time. During the first few days of shooting Tora’s Husband, Purbanchali Das, who plays the role of Jaan’s daughter Manu, underperformed the scenes in comparison to Bhuman Bhargav Das, who plays her brother. However, like the filming moved on she started losing interest while Bhuman started doing better. This made Das expand his scenes.

After the festival rounds, the next job before Das is to release the film in theatres. “We envisioned the film to be watched in theaters, not on laptops. Watching a movie in theaters creates a sense of community and that’s something we all love,” says the independent filmmaker, who calls Tora’s Husband her most challenging film. He has one regret: He doesn’t have a proper production design and lighting team. “This movie needed better art direction. Because we had financial constraints, we couldn’t afford a bigger team,” he says.

Das, who is already working on another project, wants to take a break once her current works are completed. She then plans to approach her future projects with a fresh mind and perspective. “I want to reinvent things,” says Dash, who has made a notable contribution to Indian independent filmmaking with her inventiveness and refreshing storytelling.

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