Rima Das is a filmmaker from India known for making indigenous and realistic stories that explore complicated relationships, finding purpose, coming of age and life amidst nature. Her films “Village Rockstars” and “Bulbul Can Sing” premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and were screened at over 120 prestigious film festivals around the world winning over 70 awards including the National Film Awards in India. “Village Rockstars” was also India’s official entry to the 2019 Academy Awards. Das has donned multiple hats of writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor for her projects.
“Tora’s Husband” is screening at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which is running from September 8-18.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
RD: “Tora’s Husband” is about a small-town businessman whose struggles are real, but his expectations disappoint him. His inner world and his outside world are always at conflict.
The film is also a social commentary on the dichotomy among different classes.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
RD: During the initial three months of the first lockdown in India, I was living alone in Mumbai. The news of people’s suffering and loss disturbed me. I stood at my window for hours, reflecting about the uncertain times, life, and relationships. I longed to meet my family but waited patiently. Finally, flights opened.
When I returned to my home town in Assam, life was rather different. Although there was fear, regular activity driven by the need for survival had resumed.
I felt I should go out and tell the story of the common people because one day this time will be history. I aimed to depict the uncertainty of these times. I wanted to explore the struggles of people who look fine on the outside, but are broke and broken.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
RD: We often think only our perspective is the right perspective. There will be less conflict if we accept that there is no right or wrong: each individual just thinks differently. I am leaving it to the audience to interpret the film as they like.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
RD: We were shooting this film over two years, through loss and lockdowns. It was extremely challenging because the pandemic restricts you in many ways, both physically and emotionally. There was constant fear and anxiety — the energy and morale of the cast and crew were low. It took some effort to keep the team motivated, but I am grateful we stuck together and made “Tora’s Husband” happen.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
RD: I began this film organically, driven by the desire to tell the story of these times. So, I chose to self-fund the film as I couldn’t lose time. Quite like my previous films “Village Rockstars” and “Bulbul Can Sing,” I produced “Tora’s Husband” fiercely independently with a team of just four to five people at a time and some local support.
Due to Covid challenges, unpredictable lockdowns, and the nature of the film, the budgets overshot than I initially estimated.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
RD: I came from a different background that had nothing to do with films. I didn’t go to a film school nor did I have family or friends who were into films with whom I could talk about my ideas. I was just trying to find acting jobs in Mumbai, and I got acquainted with world cinema. I was mesmerized by the storytelling and the power of the visuals.
Coming from India I had many stories. I liked the idea of creating my own world through cinema.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
RD: I am inspired by the message from the “Bhagavad Gita” that says focus on your work rather than being attached to the fruits. I try to follow it in my life by immersing myself in the process and enjoying it rather than worrying about the results.
When I was starting my journey as a filmmaker, I was told that thousands of people apply to international film festivals. As a first-time filmmaker, I do not stand a chance and I should give up on that thought.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
RD: I believe each of us has our own journey and I am proud to see my fellow women directors doing wonderful work. May our tribe grow!
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
RD: Agnès Varda once said, “I’m fighting a struggle, which is to make cinema alive and not just make another film.” That somehow always stays with me.
Among the more recent films, I quite liked “First Cow” directed by Kelly Reichardt. I like how she has created an immersive world with her story, characters, the set up, and the treatment, finding kindness and humanity in the most unlikely of places.
W&H: What, if any, responsibilities do you think storytellers have to confront the tumult in the world, from the pandemic to the loss of abortion rights and systemic violence?
RD: I always ask myself how can there be an equilibrium between humanity, nature, and the universe. Thoughts don’t have consequences but actions do. And whatever happens, I believe love is above all. As storytellers, we have a very powerful visual medium. I try to create a world on-screen as I see and I want to see.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
RD: Be it Hollywood or film industries back home in India, we see certain communities are underrepresented or misrepresented. Each of us will have to play our part to increase awareness and build ecosystems to make the industry more inclusive.