#TBBdoesRAINDANCE2015 Michael Scott Reviews ‘Driving With Selvi’ for TBB
This documentary, by Elisa Paloschi, is – ostensibly at least – the story of South India’s first female taxi driver (focusing – as it does – on the will and indomitable spirit of this young lady within a culture that traditionally subjugates women and holds them back). The stories it actually tells include those of betrayal, abuse, heartache, joy, true love, and redemption. So far, so stock (!)
The film starts off with Selvi telling us of her last-second decision not to throw herself under a moving vehicle; instead she – quite literally – catches the bus and rides away from her troubles.
We are then told of her being taken in by a local welfare organisation (‘Odanadi’), and given the self-belief to become a local taxi-driver.
After that – through a series of narrations, straight-to-camera interviews, documentary set-pieces, and travel footage – we chart her development from 18-year old ‘survivor’ through to married woman, mother, and (presumably) soon-to-be driving entrepreneur.
The interviews are sensitive towards her emotional and physical abuses (married at 14years old); at times, the look in her eyes is enough to tell us of the horrors that she must have faced as a child-bride. At other times, she tells us candidly of atrocities both general (India’s treatment of its female children and the ‘dowry system’), and personal (betrayal by her own family-members). For the most part, she shares these insights and recollections with a smile and emotional strength that belies the narrative. Only once does she appear to ‘break’, giving a ‘no comment’ to a particularly loaded question; even then, we are given the (dreaded) details at a later date.
The tone of the documentary is deliberately balanced and non-judgemental; amidst the tales of misogyny, female infanticide, and sex-crimes are scenes of community support, cultural rectitude, societal kindness, and expressions of love from extended family-members. This is put to the fore in interviews with members of ‘Odanadi’. Translated as ‘soulmate’, this is an organisation in South India that deals with sexual violence against women and children. In some respects, the enterprise seems less an insight into a remarkable young woman (or even an expose’ of endemic cultural wrong-doing), than a very well-made political ‘call-to-arms’. This is not a criticism, per se.
The scenes where she is driving around are both fun and exhilarating (indeed they show Selvi at her most free). No doubt, this aspect of the tale is what may draw many people to the film; however, it is the static scenes – the moments of stillness with her husband, her daughter, or with herself – that prove the most… moving.
In conclusion, this documentary (filmed over 10 years) is a story of love. Not only does it show us Selvi’s love for her family and for her driving; it also highlights the filmmaker’s deep affection for South India, its women, and the men that truly support and care for them. In so doing, it reminds us that – in the midst of acute poverty and cultural atrocities, – there is a human strength, dignity, and perseverance that recognises neither borders nor gender.
This particular ‘drive’ is both personal and universal; get your thumbs out.
Driving With Selvi screened at the 2015 Raindance Festival. To find out more about the Raindance film schedule go to: http://calendar.raindancefestival.org/films
For more information about Driving With Selvi please go to: http://drivingwithselvi.com/