Rima Das is a rare example of an artist who creates her films almost completely alone (apart from work with amateur actors) – she is a director, director of photography, editor and producer. The example of an Assamese artist clearly shows that you do not need to go to film school, and you do not even need a great budget and an experienced crew to make good films – all you need is a solid script, based on observation and local research, love of cinema, commitment and attentive viewer experience. Rima Das has learned to make movies by watching them.
Most viewers probably associate India with Bollywood. In fact, young Indian cinema can definitely be more interesting than that. Bulbul Can Sing is such an example. This is a cinema that not only tells about the girlish experience of growing up in an extremely conservative environment and culture (where an innocent kiss can cost one’s life), but also is an anthropological record of provincial places in India which are like a breakwater unsuccessfully hit by waves of modernity.
Here is involved coming-of-age that is really well made. The director takes the role of an observer who follows the characters, looking at their daily lives and dreams. Young Bulbul would like (or maybe more it is her father’s wish) to become a singer, but she is too shy. In addition, she begins to like the sensitive boy who writes poems for her. Rima Das lovingly portrays the first, innocent germination of flowers of adolescence. There is no place for physicality here, but it seems to boil under beautiful images and spoken words – as in conservative cultures, it is penalized, seen negatively and completely pushed into closed private life.
Bulbul Can Sing talks about the tragedy of lost youth, taken by the conservative society. Adolescence, although it follows its natural path – the first, innocent love affairs, looks, and meetings – is brutally stopped. Even then Rima Das does not break her documentary spirit. This tragedy revolves in a similar style, as if it was an integral part of the same innocent experience of youth.
The creator’s apparent distance evokes compassion for heroes who know no other world. “Am I the only such person in the world?” asks Chick, nicknamed this way by his colleagues because of his delicacy. There is no escape from the harsh, brutal culture, there are no other patterns to follow. The only way to feel free for a while are the cracks in the culture itself, breaking its severity – poetry, singing, rituals, nature.
In such a world one cannot grow up and escape it. There is a deep sadness and regret flowing from Rima Das’ movie – a regret that although the breakwater is slowly beginning to bend under the pressure of the sea of normal life, it is still far from bursting and falling apart completely, burying the old world in the depths of the past.