Mahila tells stories of empowerment from India’s rural Dalit communities. For ages, Dalit women have suffered from a triple discrimination based on their gender, caste and impoverished economic class. The women of “Mahila” have found a rare voice and an important standing in their communities. They have achieved this through education, access to credit, training to form businesses, and through awareness of their rights as citizens.
Mahila introduces us to three generations of Dalit women who represent a movement that is changing the face of India: Young Indira gets her parents’ full support to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher; Jaysree leads a women farmers’ cooperative that negotiates fair prices for their dairy production; and Mary Rani becomes the first Dalit woman to be elected president of her village.
About the Filmmaker
Sabrina Varani, director of photography and documentary filmmaker, worked on fiction films in Italy and France from 1984 to 2000. She has spent the last 15 years working mainly on documentaries, collaborating as director of photography with top Italian documentary filmmakers like Agostino Ferrente, Costanza Quatriglio and Roland Sejko.
At the same time, she works on her own documentary projects, mainly on social and gender issues. Riding for Jesus, her most recent directorial work, has been selected for numerous Italian and foreign film festivals and broadcasted in Belgium and France. It was a winner at the 2012 Detour Film Festival and one of 20 finalists in the 2012 Doc/it Professional Award for Italian documentaries.
More from the Filmmaker
As a filmmaker, I traveled to many countries around the world but I had not had the opportunity to go to India before. Mahila was the perfect chance to enter the depths of one of the most burning issues in this great country and worldwide: women’s emancipation through education.
It was interesting to approach such a theme through a religious community and discover a stunning force and a free spirit in the very women who renounced (by choice) some of the fundamental freedoms as an individual, such as having a partner and children. They are tireless social activists, who are strong-willed and clear-minded, capable of creating fundamental changes with limited resources. T
he film starts with a simple purpose, documenting a project of empowerment of women among the most marginalized caste in India, the Dalits. During my journey I saw in the eyes of the girls that I filmed hope and potential of all women following a bigger global path, without limits in time and space.
This path is the age-old struggle of women to achieve their self-fulfilment and freedom from all repressive forces who try to undermine it. This hard struggle, which leaves misery and often death in the field, is told through constructive actions, through kindness and intelligence, through the power of education that becomes the vehicle of transformation. These changes may look small, but they are a nuclear blast to the consciousness.
In making this film, I tried to express what I felt while I was there with those women: the sense that there is a huge revolution in small actions like these. A revolution, to which no end is yet in sight, is now taking place and is certainly transforming the world into a better place to live.