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Driving with Selvi
Selvi, like so many girls living within India’s patriarchal culture, is forced to marry at a young age, only to find herself in a violent and abusive marriage. One day, in deep despair, she chooses to escape, and goes on to become South India’s first female taxi driver. We see a remarkable change as Selvi finds her voice and transforms from abused child bride to empowered working woman. This is the ten-year journey of a charming, strong, and utterly courageous young woman who defies all expectations, moving beyond the pain she’s experienced to create a new life.
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Driving with Selvi

Running Time
74 minutes

Driving with Selvi

Selvi, like so many girls living within India’s patriarchal culture, is forced to marry at 14, only to find herself in a violent and abusive marriage. One day in deep despair she chooses to escape, going to a highway with the intention of throwing herself under the wheels of a bus. Instead she gets on the bus, choosing to live… and goes on to become South India’s first female taxi driver.

We first meet 18-year-old Selvi in 2004 at a shelter for young women in Mysore, Karnataka, shortly after she has left her husband – timid, soft-spoken, a fresh runaway from a difficult life. Over a ten-year journey, we see a remarkable transformation as Selvi finds her voice and defies all expectations – learning to drive, starting her own taxi company, leading seminars to educate and empower women in rural areas, obtaining her license to drive a passenger bus, and much more.

This character-driven story highlights the harsh realities that millions of devalued women and girls in India face while simultaneously exposing their humanity and breaking down the stereotypes too-often associated with those facing desperate circumstances. In a society where women are often considered expendable or worthless, Selvi refuses to accept this estimation for herself, moving beyond the pain she’s experienced to create an entirely new life.

Selvi is an exception and an inspiration. Her unmitigated desire to triumph over the cards that have been dealt to her, her refusal to accept the role of victim, and her evolution into an empowered working woman, happy in life and surrounded by supportive family and friends, is a hero’s journey, offering hope and inspiration.
Through Selvi’s eyes, the audience is taken on an intimate journey of healing, overcoming obstacles, and fulfilling dreams. And throughout this journey, her unwavering spirit shines through. Wildly charming (without even realizing it), remarkably strong, and utterly courageous, by the end of the film Selvi speaks almost as a sage or our wisest teacher, sharing important, hard-won secrets about happiness and life.

Filmmaker Notes:

When I met Selvi, I hadn’t made a film in 10 years… but Selvi’s courage, wisdom and positive attitude changed that pretty quickly!

We shot for 11 years and even up to the very last day Selvi would get annoyed with the camera, and with me for asking too many questions. She’d ask me why I was making a film about her, “I’ve done nothing special, I’m just a driver.”  But being “just a driver” was remarkable, because back in 2004 it was very rare to see a woman driving, let alone a taxi. I explained to her that I thought her story could inspired girls and women like herself to imagine, and to create a better future for themselves. She thought about this for a minute, and then said “If my story can change the life of one woman, then all this hassle will be worth it.”

So from our humble beginnings of hoping to inspire a single woman, we are now well on our way to inspiring thousands, hopefully even millions. Already the film is screening in India with ITVS Women and Girls Lead Global program, and will reach 11,000 people in 180 communities. (http://www.womenandgirlslead.org/film/driving-with-selvi/)

As well, we have launched our own initiative. Save Her A Seat is a three-tier social-impact campaign that aims to leverage the power of the film Driving with Selvi as a catalyst for gender equality in India through grassroots screenings, education and driving training bursaries for women.
The core idea of Save Her a Seat is very simple. With the knowledge that film can act as the catalyst to change a life, Save Her A Seat starts by simply saving a seat for a girl or woman at a screening.  — Elisa

Here’s a quote I love!

“This is a story that can spark a change in someone’s life.”
Zainab Salbi, Founder Women for Women International

Film details
Year(s) screened
  • 2016
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