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Canadian Filmmaker Elisa Paloschi on Documenting The Inspiring Life of South India's First Female Taxi Driver

In an interaction with News18.com, the Canadian filmmaker opened up about the journey of the film, its challenges and her hope to continue impacting women's life with such courageous stories.

Sameeksha | News18.com@s_dandriyal

Updated:December 13, 2017, 1:18 PM IST
Canadian Filmmaker Elisa Paloschi on Documenting The Inspiring Life of South India's First Female Taxi Driver
Image: Loudspeaker Media

There are films that impact the lives of others with their stories and then there are ones which are inspired by impactful stories, but only seldom do we come across a film which has both components - an inspiring story which not only affects the life of the person it's based upon but also impacts others in a positive light.

Director Elisa Paloschi’s multiple award-winning documentary Driving With Selvi tells the remarkable true story of Selvi – South India’s first female taxi driver.

Forced to marry at the young age of 14, Selvi soon found herself in a violent and abusive marriage. One day, in a desperate bid to escape, she fled to a highway with the intention of throwing herself under a bus. Instead, she chose to board the bus and thus began her remarkable journey.

The story of Selvi sees her defy stereotypes by learning to drive, starting her own taxi company, leading educational seminars and emerging as a true inspiration for all the victimised women in India’s patriarchal society.

With more than 25 years of experience in documentary production as a director, producer, and cinematographer, Elisa is the President of Eyesfull, a Toronto-based independent production company dedicated to non-fiction documentaries that reflect the diversity of the human voice.

Driving With Selvi was shot over a span of 10 years and premiered at Raindance in 2015. Since then, it has featured at festivals around the world, winning a number of awards and accolades. In an interaction with News18.com, the Canadian filmmaker opened up about the journey of the film, its challenges and her hope to continue impacting women's life with such courageous stories.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did the idea of Driving With Selvi come in your mind?

Originally I was in India for a tour and really quickly I felt disconnected from the community and from the people; it was really hard as a tourist to get to know anyone. And that's not the kind of travel I like to do. I knew about the existence of violence against women in the country so I decided to volunteer in a shelter. When the director of the shelter got to know about my film background, he asked me to shoot a film for them. I initially said no because I hadn't made a film in 10 years at that point. Anyway, they twisted my arm, got me a camera and I began to shoot.

In the beginning, I probably interviewed 20-40 women but what struck me about Selvi and a few other girls was that they were learning to drive and were setting up a taxi company. Basically, a travel agency that works only with women and family as customers. That was in 2014, in Mysore, when there were literally no women behind wheels. So not only was I impressed that she was learning to drive but that she was willing to drive in a place like that.

Initially, I came back with a plan to make the film about the taxi company itself rather than Selvi, but when I came back the situation had changed. The two other girls had left and it was just Selvi heading the business and the film became something different. We then thought we would go on a road trip and try to find these women who had taken completely different roads. Each year, I came back thinking what the film would be and each year it was different. So, the idea slowly came about. It was not until the latter part of filming that I knew what the story was.

The film is a lot about Selvi's courageous spirit and her journey. What was your observation about the inspiring protagonist?

Selvi always had an incredibly strong spirit, from the moment she could walk I think. She was really taking care of herself early on and in a way without even knowing it, she was always in survival mode. Selvi knows what needs to be done to survive. She's got a mind I've never seen before. She is an incredible and courageous woman.

What were the key challenges you faced while making the film?

One of the biggest challenges for me is that I'm a Westerner and I didn't want to, in any terms, impose my own opinions on the story.

The first screening we did in India was at Mumbai Film Festival and I was terrified of it because the culture and mindset there was aware of the issue. We had an amazing response and it was a proof that I wasn't trying to overstep the boundaries.

Raising funds is another challenge. In Canada, we have a system where you get a broadcaster onboard and then you have a series of funds available through the government. But at other places, no broadcaster was ready for it despite loving the idea and the film. I couldn't get any broadcaster for the initial years, so I would collect the grant each year and come back and shoot. Finally, I did a crowd funding campaign to collect money for post-production.

You are on a bus tour with Selvi, showcasing the film to different communities. How would you describe your experience?

It's absolutely incredible because when we started with the film, Selvi was a bit resistant to tell her story. She was like 'I'm nobody, I'm just a driver'. Why don't you find somebody who has actually achieved something? It was only after I explained to her that her spirit would inspire so many other women to realise that they can fulfill their dreams and work towards achieving their goals that she agreed. She said that if I can inspire even one woman to change her life, I will make this film.

Now on the road, we've been screening the film in different communities from Devadasis to college girls and everywhere. The result of every screening is quite similar, that is, after the screening, the first thing they say is that Selvi is so courageous and I'm going to take that courage and make my own dream come true. It feels good to see the film impacting women far and wide and it will continue to do so for a long time.

| Edited by: Sameeksha
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