Set in the village of Dholka in Gujarat, the story of the lives of Karishma, Apsana and Samira is a tale of three young girls following their dream of continuing studying whilst the family pressures them to marry. As the family begins the wedding preparations while the girls are preparing for their final exams, the ‘frustrating and inspiring’ plot ‘reveals the complexity that emerges on the path of self-determination’.
Deborah Wallace, Ellie Walton and Yashaswi Desai come together to make this documentary film. In conversation with them as they unfold their journey from first visiting the village armed with digital cameras, to building a rapport with the locals. And to finally directing the short film slated for release on 4th June 2019 through online broadcast on Amazon Prime, I-tunes and premiering in Washington DC on 3rd June.
What inspired and motivated you to make this film?
When we first met these girls in their classroom, they were so full of dreams, so full of life. We spent time with them in the classroom dancing, singing, writing poems, creating a video-diary about their lives before and after joining the school. Right before their final exam, we received a phone call from one of the girls from the class sharing that she wants more from her life and she is feeling restricted by her circumstances and doesn’t know what to do. It was then we decided to follow the more personal stories of their lives.
Why did you choose Dhokla?
We arrived in Dholka with a backpack full of donated digital cameras and no agenda except to give young women a chance to explore their lives through a lens. Soon we were in deep with a group of girls that had just decided to join a new program, facilitated by the NGO Pratham, which gave them a second chance to finish school. It was while spending time with these girls at school that we learned about their struggle between their personal aspirations in life and the expectations for them from their families. Although we began our journey as facilitators, we soon realized there was a deeper story unfolding.
What was the reaction of the local community when they saw you filming?
-We were already spending time with girls in school and often visited them at their homes as well. During our stay in Dholka, we had created a bond with the girls and their families. There were times when someone would not feel comfortable with a camera being on and the girls would share with us about it and we would not film them.
Why did you decide to center your story around these three girls? Do they represent the majority of girls that reside in Dhokla?
-The film is a universal coming-of-age story of teenagers falling in love, rebelling against social norms and imagining a life different than that of their parents. The film is also a deeply personal portrait of three young women, caught between following their dreams and their obligations to a community they cherish. While the young women were interviewing each other as part of the workshop process, they sparked the question, “Do you believe in love marriage or arranged marriage?” We’ll never forget Karishma’s response to one girl’s commitment to her arranged marriage, “But how can you give up on your dreams?”
As women coming from different walks of life, are there any traits of the girls that you can identify or relate with? In other words, in spite of girls or women spread across different geographies or against different social backgrounds, what are some of common behavior, feelings or attitudes that bind them together?
We all at some point in our lives have faced judgments for not falling into the proper category, or not exhibiting the prescribed characteristics, of a girl or women. This was common among the girls we were filming, and with us.
How did the three of you (directors) come together on this project? Tell us something about your collaboration and team.
We met at a community home in the Gandhi Ashram, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Together we decided to visit Dholka and meet these girls who had come out from their homes after many years to finish their 10th grade exam. Although we both came from very different upbringings and cultures, it still felt like we shared something similar, and also that we shared something with the girls we were filming. Our hopes and challenges were not that different.
How and in what way do you hope to see a change in this society through your film?
What becomes a subject of conversation in our homes and communities, becomes a subject of conversation in our politics. We want people to start talking about the challenges girls face as they choose education over marriage. We are currently running a community outreach campaign in India, along with girls from the film, we are sharing the film with groups and having conversation with them about ways to support our girls in the important decision-making years of their lives.
Is the film an exact representation of the reality on ground or there are artistic liberties taken?
You should watch this film because you will be drawn into the lives of three young Muslim women who are actively rewriting traditions in their small conservative town. Because the film shows their strength and determination and you will be moved to root for them. Because right now, we find ourselves in an extraordinary moment in history. From the women’s marches to the “silence breakers”, we have seen an international reckoning that continues to reshape cultures in terms of gender equality. For the other 3.6 billion women in the world, the stories may vary but it is clear that the demand of women to realize their full potential are being heard across the globe. Brave Girls explores three young women on their journey, as they ask urgent questions for their livelihood and face the consequences of answering them.
9. Please give us your views on why educating girls is important.
-Education helps them to make good and safe life choices, broadens their lens and helps them to choose better options for their lives. They could also use it to get financial independence.
What are some of the challenges that you faced while filming? How did you overcome these?
-When one of the girls ran away from her home while her family wanted her to do arranged marriage, we faced judgments about being a reason behind her decision to run away from home. At that point we also had to take time away from the community for some time until things cooled down again. We feel that the connection we had with community had made clear that we were there with the best intentions for these girls, never encouraging something that wasn’t toward the well-being of the girls and their community.
Finally, what is your message to the other hundreds of girls who might be facing similar backlash for pursuing their dreams.
-Help yourself by communicating your needs. There are so many organizations that work for girls, and girls can access their help. And keep trying, communication really needs to happen with their parents too so that they are aware of their thoughts and dreams in life. Start small and do not give up on yourself.
The Brave Girls team has also begun a campaign to support the young women in India and across the globe.