“Freedom cannot be bestowed — it must be achieved.”
Women often find themselves curbed by the shackles of society. In a conservative country like India, regressive norms and traditions have time and again hindered the growth and progress of women, especially those who hail from a poor socio-economic background. But if history has taught us anything, its that courageous women always persevere and shatter these boundaries. This spirit is captured impeccably in the story of ‘Kamali’ – a film about freedom, empowerment, love and everything in between.
This award winning film revolves around seven-year-old Kamali, the only girl skateboarder in the small fishing village of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. Kamali is the youngest of three generations of women living together in her home. She is raised by her mother, Suganthi, who was locked away as a child until the day she was married. Having recently found the courage to leave her abusive husband, Suganthi decides to take a pilgrimage in a quest of self-discovery.
At it’s heart, ‘Kamali’ is the story of a single Indian fighting for her daughter’s empowerment through skateboarding.
We had the chance to talk to the director of the film, Sasha Rainbow. Check it out!
What was it about Kamali’s story that drew you in and how did you find out about them?
It all came about when I was in India filming a music video for British Band ‘Wild Beasts’ song Alpha Female. I had intended to make a documentary about the burgeoning female skate movement in India on the side of the video and was interviewing all the girls involved. I had seen this photo of this little six year old barefoot girl skating down a ramp in this little dress. I knew she had to be in the video. When we finally tracked Kamali down, her and her mum, Suganthi left their village for the first time to come to Bangalore especially for the video.
We had had such a long day shooting and it was night. When Kamali arrived at the skatepark her eyes lit up - she’d never seen such a big skatepark. Her energy was magical; we all came to life again. Kamali and Suganthi stayed with us for the rest of the shoot, so we got to know them well. On the second to last day we interviewed Kamali, who, as you can imagine, had limited rhetoric! Suganthi stepped in. By the end of our conversation, I was in tears. I knew we had to find a way to come back and make a documentary about their relationship and everything Suganthi is trying to do to empower Kamali. It really seemed to represent the massive change happening in India right now, and how it can take one person breaking a cycle to create major positive change all around them.
Could you talk about Kamali’s mother, her challenges and the impact it had on their lives?
Suganthi is my age, she was 31 when I met her. I was shocked, because I had seen her as such a motherly figure, but in fact we were the same age and had lived such completely different lives. Here I was, on the other side of the world from where I am from (New Zealand) and this was Suganthi’s first time leaving her village for another city. But, in fact, Suganthi was (and is) far braver than me; she is making radical decisions in a space where everyone knows her and her family. The film goes into a lot of detail about Suganthi’s childhood and life and the spine of the film compares her journey from childhood to adulthood with Kamali’s life and potential future, which, as you can imagine, is totally different. Suganthi has gone through terrible experiences, but it has only made her resolve to make Kamali’s life filled with freedom all the more stronger. In fact, in the film she thanks God for giving her a bad marriage, otherwise Kamali would have ended up locked away as she was. This woman has an amazing spirit and ability to draw positive lessons from life! She’s my hero!
What was the filming process like? How did your relationship with Kamali & her mother evolve over that period?
It was incredibly hard shooting in a foreign language, with different customs and expectations and managing relationships, schedules, and everything else that goes into making a film. As we were self funded we had limited time. We were in India for just under a month, after several months of preparation. It was frustrating, as life happens, so some events we had planned to shoot as part of the film got shifted. It was going to have wider scope with the community around them, but funny how these things work out. It really got us to focus on the relationship between Kamali and her family, which in the end is a much more personal film. We were welcomed into their family from the beginning. Suganthi, who has not had much interaction with the outside world, is as curious as Kamali is and so willing to learn. The funny thing was, no one expected how much we were going to be in their lives! They thought we were just making a content style film of Kamali skating and surfing. I would consider them my Indian family. We laughed, we cried, we cooked, we talked, we chilled.
Could you expand on the importance of sports in the lives of children.
I’m not sure I’m the best person to give you the exact scale of the skate scene in India, but what I can tell you is it’s blowing up! In only around five years since it was introduced, it’s having a huge impact on how girls view themselves and how others view them. Because it’s so new, it hasn’t been able to become a male dominated sport, and the younger generation of male skaters are really encouraging and inclusive. I think that’s really important. When sports are done right it’s about team building and inclusivity. Skating is great because it leaves space for the individual to work at their own pace, in a social environment.
Could you talk about the representation and inclusion of the female narrative in traditional male dominated sectors such as skateboarding and films?
Well, I’m going to say, let’s make space for everyone’s voices. I’m sure the world will be a better place for it, and I think we are already starting to feel the positive effects of making space for diverse stories. As a creative I don’t feel my voice is a woman’s voice, it’s just my voice. Each person’s experience is their own and I feel it’s the role of artists to be vulnerable in the public sphere in a way that acts as a mirror to society. If It’s only one portion of society doing that, it’s a very narrow window and not everyone is reflected. I’m getting abstract here but I don’t think I need to wax lyrical anymore - it’s all about action! Creating platforms and giving opportunities to those that are underrepresented. My next job is coming up and it looks like I’ll be working with a female producer, Cinematographer, Editor and colour grader and they’re all super talented! That’s exciting!
What was your biggest takeaway from Kamali and her mother’s story?
We all have the power to change the world. It’ll be awkward, but our voices and our actions are our weapons. Stand up for what you believe in, always be curious and fight hard. Make your life worth something.
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