Review on ‘Driving with Selvi’ by Elisa Paloschi.

This documentary captures the strife that a young Selvi is subjected to and her heroic struggle to unfetter her soul.

This Canadian-produced, South India-set documentary throws light on astonishing statistics about forced marriage, and how 700 million women worldwide were married before they turned 18; 250 million of them before they turned 15.

As a young girl who’s well versed with concerns and topics such as Feminism and equality en masse, Selvi’s tale is both heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring.

Selvi was married off to a man much older to her because of her sister in law who played the Devil’s advocate and managed to convince her brother to send her away.Her eyes tend to dart across the room when she’s asked about her family. She was tight lipped about her marriage for a long time. However,when she finally chooses to speak about it,the viewers cannot help marvel at her spirit. As a child bride,she was in an abusive relationship with a man who not only was violent towards her but also forced her to perform sexual favours for other men in return for money. Selvi’s life takes a new turn when she goes to Odanadi(a shelter home) and learns how to drive an auto. It is there that she meets the director Elisa Paloschi who befriends her and records her life for over ten years.

Selvi is a wonderful,independent woman who always has her head held high,never wavering in her intent and her zeal. The first instance of her indomitable spirit is seen when she decides to escape her abusive marriage and throw herself under the wheels of the bus. Instead, she changes her mind and gets onto the bus in the hope of turning over a new leaf.18 year old Selvi who was shy and soft spoken grows in myriad ways to find her calling in life. She learns how to stand for herself,how to get heard and how to drive. Driving for her was something extraordinary. It empowered her and helped her feel like she was in control.

Patriarchy and its demons are painted vividly in this 72 minutes long documentary which manages to strike a cord with all viewers. The manner in which a man decides a woman’s fate(which is by far very common in the parochial system of Indian marriages),the largely hidden structure of inequality and injustice inter alia,show us that the overarching structure of Patriarchy was so strong that perhaps subconsciously even Selvi gives into it when she says,”I drive like a man”.

The fortunate part however remains that despite it all,Selvi refuses to cower and submit to this reality which is generally ordained for every woman in the country. She takes us along with her on a journey which makes us live like her,with her,laugh and cry with her and most importantly heal with her.

The Toronto Film Scene echoed that DWS was inspirational also writing “Her growth and transformation is an inspiring one as she changes from an eighteen-year-old soft-spoken runaway, to a woman finding her voice and refusing to surrender to the limitations that society attempts to force upon her.”

 Selvi grows from a runaway bride to a shy eighteen year old in Odanadi,learning how to find her calling,fighting her demons and growing with every challenge that she encounters. Somewhere down the line,her story becomes one worth reckoning. It is one which every woman in the country can relate to,in some way or the other. It is almost as if she wants you to see that no matter the adversities,one must always be brave.

Other than the themes of Patriarchy,inequality,determination and grit,Selvi also shows us that Love is important. As opposed to the popular statement,”Every successful man has a woman behind him”, Selvi’s story shows us that it can also be the other way around.

Her faithful comrade and spouse whom she fondly calls Viji constantly urges her on to follow her dreams and never for once falters in his unflinching love and admiration for her. He proudly says that Selvi is more courageous and capable than he ever was or could be.

Selvi shows us that a woman can be the best of both worlds. A woman can jostle past the men who weigh her down,meet eyes and stand up to women who scale others down,set foot in what people call a ‘man’s world’,drive a bus if one wants to and at the same time,be a wonderful homemaker, a dedicated wife and a loving mother.

Selvi loves her husband and child dearly and doesn’t shirk her duties as a mother or a wife while trying to fulfil her ambitions.

Her husband constantly supports her while she goes onto become the first female taxi driver in Karnataka. Selvi does not feel any sense of regret about having left her family- her mother who was barely ever nice to her and her brother who once even labelled her as a prostitute.

Her sense of detachment with her family and the fact that she was happy despite it all can be rationalised by the new relationships that she has established,be it with her brothers from Odanadi,her comrades,her husband or her child. It is thus pertinent to understand that human relationships,though fragile and brittle,are important.

Selvi’s story is one of courage,inexplicable bravery and determination. As a young woman and a sensitised human being, Selvi,to me, is a woman worth reckoning and her story is one worth remembering!

Stories like these empower us and make us believe that there are always new prospects for success and hope. Selvi has become a benchmark of progress and I hope more young women fill the gallery and paint the world with their stories and their ambitions!

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