Saturday, October 3, 2015

Raindance: Driving With Selvi (2015)

More than 700 million women alive today
were married before their 18th birthday
250 million before age 15…

Selvi was just 14 when she was forced to marry a much older and physically abusive husband in her home of South India.  Living with him for her teenage years was such unspeakable torture that she eventually considered throwing herself under a bus to end the ordeal.  But instead she chose to get on the bus and run away to a girl’s shelter called Odanadi.  Four years later she had learned to drive, started her own company and become South India’s first taxi driver. 

Elisa Paloschis documentary follows Selvi over a ten-year period from being a timid, runaway survivor to happily getting remarried to the man she loves and having a child.  She now gives lectures to other women about their lives and tells her story of empowerment with poignancy and intimacy.

The misogynist patriarchy in India (and, shamefully, much of the world) is the backdrop to Driving with Selvi but it is the voice of women that are in the foreground.  It is hard not to feel intense anger and disgust at parts of her story, but the important part is that she is telling it – and with an intelligence and bravery that inspires a degree of hope.

Selvi admits that when she ‘learned to drive [she] learned to talk to people’, which is itself an important message about equality and gaining a voice:  When she gave herself the opportunity to provide a service or skill, she became empowered and more vocal: core ideas that have existed throughout feminism’s history.
Driving With Selvi

India is perhaps the most photogenic country in the world, full of colourful clothes, food and scenery, which makes it hard sometimes to balance the beautiful surface imagery with the harrowing reality of some of its inhabitants.  The abusive men are abhorrent monsters, so their voices have simply been omitted to allow the more positive reflections of the central women.

Paloschi’s film is tender and courteous to her characters, allowing them to speak but not forcing them to divulge more than they feel comfortable, and she clearly has the trust and warmth of the families that she puts onscreen.

Driving licenses and driving are often seen as a metaphor for newfound freedom.  But by forming a taxi company, Selvi’s license becomes a symbol for the freedom of others.  She becomes a symbol of opportunity and can literally, and spiritually, take other women along for the ride…

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