‘Driving with Selvi’ film-maker Elisa Paloschi on South India’s first woman cab driver and her undying spirit

In 2004, Selvi, then 18-years-old, had escaped from a child marriage she was forced into at the age of 14 and was learning to drive when Elisa Paloschi first met her.

Written by Soumya Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: April 4, 2017 3:40 pm
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“Selvi is courageous and wise. She uses a lot of metaphors, mostly driving metaphors.” This is what Elisa Paloschi, Canadian film-maker, whose documentary Driving with Selvi amassed critical acclaim and love everywhere it was screened, has to say about the protagonist of her film.

According to a 2011 Census report, 30 per cent of women were married under the age of 18 and among them 78 lakh girls were married even before they were 10. In 2004, a vivacious Selvi, then 18-years-old, had escaped the child marriage she was forced into at the age of 14 and was a part of a collective of women learning to drive.

Paloschi, a tourist yearning to connect with the people than just the ‘Incredible India’ sights, began spending her time at Odanadi, an NGO in Mysore, Karnataka, working with women who have survived gender violence.

“Selvi is courageous and wise. She uses a lot of metaphors, mostly driving metaphors.”

“Ten years before I met Selvi, I had given up the camera and film-making, in 2004, she inspired me to find a way and tell her story,” said Paloschi speaking to indianexpress.com. Not only did she inspire a change in the 50-year-old film-maker, Selvi, with her undying spirit and grit, also became the first female taxi driver in South India. Just as importantly, she married again, this time because she found love in free will and by choice, became a mother and proudly acquired the license to drive a passenger bus.

The one hour, 18-minute long film is more than just a glimpse of Selvi’s moving journey. Paloschi documented Selvi’s life from 2004, for ten years, as both of them, more like friends, narrated the latter’s story.

Living among people conditioned to believe that somebody at the receiving end of gender violence is a victim, Selvi proved them wrong, with the course of time. And Paloschi vehemently agrees. “The problem about victimising is that it takes away the right to live a dignified life from somebody who has already been through a difficult experience.” And we have no right to do that, she said.

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A quick glimpse through the Driving With Selvi’s Instagram page will show you a fierce Selvi conducting workshops for women, empowering them, motivating them to learn driving and asserting that “there is no rule that women have to suffer all their lives.”

For those seeing her infectious energy and child-like glee on the screen, Paloschi said, Selvi also made them think. “I am honoured that she allowed me to tell her story and just like me, I believe several people who came to watch her come alive on screen, felt an intimate connection with her transparency and honesty,” she said.

The documentary, of the unscripted genre, was one of the films that were screened at the recently concluded Habitat International Film Festival (HIFF).

“Selvi’s unceasing courage to lead a life that she had envisioned for herself, against all odds, makes the film more relatable to the audience,” said Basil Poulose, one of the visitors at HIFF and an executive producer with a production house in Delhi, after watching the film.

“People watching her would have felt hopeful of their own future and on a much broader level about the future of women and their place in the society,” said the film-maker.

The film premiered at Raindance Film Festival in London in 2015 and went on to win many accolades like Reel Asian International Film Festival Documentary Award in 2015, Jury Award at Atlanta Film Festival in the Documentary Feature category in 2016, among others.

As for Paloschi, she is happy that her journey with Selvi could become a catalyst for social change, in any way possible. “Something I wouldn’t have directly focused on, if I hadn’t met Selvi,” she said.

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