While the TIFF 2022 lineup included several films unraveling the impact of the pandemic, filmmaker Rima Das chose to depict pain, loss, and crumbling relationships by panning the camera on her husband Abhijit Das for her latest film, Tora’s Husband.
Premiered in the ‘Platform’ section of TIFF 2022, Tora’s Husband happens to be the first Indian film to be showcased in this category. And Rima Das dressed elegantly in a flamboyant silk sari, husband Abhijit Das in tow, was all smiles at the rare feat.
Named after Jia Zhangke’s ground-breaking film Platform, this section aims to shine a brighter light on some of the most original films and distinct voices at the TIFF. Making Rima Das undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind filmmaker who has donned multiple hats of writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor for all her projects.
The award-winning Assamese filmmaker is no stranger to TIFF. Her films Village Rockstarsand Bulbul Can Sing opened to rave reviews at TIFF in previous years. Village Rockstars was also India’s official entry to the 2019 Academy Awards and won Rima Das a National Award for Best Film and Best Editor (India).
Tora’s Husband came to Rima Das, as the world stopped to adjust to the pace of the pandemic. “I was living alone in Mumbai during the early stages of the pandemic. The loss of lives and livelihood of daily wage earners and migrant workers disturbed me a great deal. It seemed as if the whole world had paused. The lockdown made me restless but also gave me time to reflect on the uncertainty of our times.”
This reflection turned out to be her cinematic calling. For, when Rima Das returned to her hometown in Assam, she found life was rather different. Although there was fear, regular activity driven by the need for survival had resumed.
“I felt this imperative need to tell the story of loss of humanity and of broken relationships. I wanted to capture the moment, the struggles of a time, which will perhaps go down in history as being one of the most challenging,” she adds.
So, Tora’s Husband became Rima Das’s time capsule, capturing the struggles and broken lives that the pandemic had left behind. Rima Das’s desire to tell the pandemic story was so fierce, that she chose to fund the film herself, instead of waiting endlessly for producers to come on board. “I did not want to lose time as my film reflected the mood of the pandemic. Like my previous films Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing, I produced Tora’s Husband independently with a team of just four to five people at a time and some local support.” adds the multi-faceted filmmaker.
Das comes from a modest background, having no earlier lineage to films. Surprisingly, she went from Assam to Mumbai in search of acting jobs and ended up having a tryst with world cinema. “Cinema was magical and mesmerizing. India has so many stories and I wanted to tell these stories using the power of visuals,” says Das, who swiftly moved from acting to directing, scripting, and producing her own ventures.
Das was thrilled to be invited back to the festival after a hiatus of two years, post the coronavirus pandemic-induced lockdowns. “It gives me immense joy to see such a large and diverse audience, distinguished artists, journalists, buyers and sellers gather in one place to celebrate cinema.”
Having three of her films shown at TIFF has had an impact. “People start believing in you and festivals allow you to see films from a global lens.” she adds.
While Rima Das does not face many struggles as a female director – she was told by near and dear ones that her films may get lost in the festival lineup where thousands of films are submitted from filmmakers worldwide. “But I was lucky to come to TIFF for the third time. I immerse myself in the process of filmmaking and have never worried of where my films will go,” says Das.
Sampling Indian delicacies at Aroma Fine Indian Cuisine, Das gushed over the excitement and buzz that comes along with a festival like TIFF. “It’s a grand event with the same community feeling as watching a sport or a concert.” She added, stating how much she missed the laughter, crowds and human bonding that the pandemic had robbed us of.
Featuring her husband Abhijit Das and actor Tarali Kalita Das, Tora’s Husband is the story of a loving father and a kind neighbour, who struggles to keep his small-town business afloat while his relationships deteriorate, amidst loss and lockdowns.
Tora’s Husband was filmed over two years of the lockdown. “Shooting during a pandemic can be extremely challenging. I was always nervous and anxious, and my crew felt the same way. Many a times it was difficult to motivate them and keep them going. The film is a true labour of love,” says Das.
Amid economic strife caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaan (Abhijit Das) desperately tries to keep his small business — a modest restaurant and hotel — afloat as his town in Assam emerges from mandated lockdown. With the chance of recovery looking bleak, Jaan begins to alienate himself from his friends and family, including his wife Tora (Tarali Kalita Das), whose patience is wearing thin.
Determined to do right by his employees and to provide for his family, Jaan turns to alcohol to cope with the pressure of his responsibilities. As he becomes increasingly stressed and aggressive, his personal relationships become more and more strained, and Tora must decide whether she can stand by her neglectful husband. Meanwhile, COVID refuses to let up and continues to threaten the lives of those around them.
Tora’s Husband is a perceptive drama that captures how tensions can erode lives and relationships during difficult times when everyone is struggling to survive. Shot over 15 months during the pandemic, Das imbues her film with the reality of the time and place of its making — and the lives therein.
With careful attention paid to the unique pressure faced by small-business owners, Das’s purview extends beyond the middle class, capturing the crisis with impressive scope and documentary-like attentiveness, pointing to the societal fragilities that preceded — and will follow — the effects of the pandemic itself. With remarkable authenticity, Das illuminates both the dignity and vulnerability of ordinary people in one of the defining films of our times.
Tora’s Husband will receive its Asia premiere at the 27th Busan International Film Festival in the ‘Window to Asian Cinema’ section this month (October).
Talking about her earlier films, Das says she made her first short film, Pratha, in 2009, and followed it up with two more. She soon realised her career was going nowhere until fate presented her with “field glasses to the future” when a colleague showed her a pair of binoculars he had bought for his retired father in their village.
It gave her the idea of a script — a father obsessed with an object that makes him discover the world anew. She started work on her first feature film Antardrishti (Man with the Binoculars), shot with a Canon DSLR camera in Kalardiya, in 2013.
Completed in 2016, Antardrishti was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Mumbai Film Festival, and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia that year. It marked the arrival of Das as more than a self-taught filmmaker. She became a one-woman crew, writing, directing, producing, editing, and shooting a film, besides handling art direction and costume designing.
Shooting the first feature film helped Das look at life from different perspectives. She rediscovered the beauty of her village and her childhood, and this led to the idea of Village Rockstars, about a 10-year-old girl who dreams of owning an electric guitar. She shot the film for more than 150 days, over almost three years, since 2014.
Das had met the children of the film while shooting for Antardristhi . The children were playing with make-believe instruments to music emanating from an audio player. She related to their innocence. As the script developed, she saw in the protagonist a mirror image of herself. The passion that went into the film showed. Village Rockstars became the first film from northeast India to be selected for the Toronto International Film Festival and the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain in 2017.
As a filmmaker, Das strives to bring about a happy balance 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 it or perhaps, as I want to see it,” ends Das.
Undoubtedly, its this ingenuity that makes her one of the formidable female filmmakers of our times!