Ravinol Chambers is a multi-award-winning Irish-born film director focusing on stories that cross boundaries and aim to connect us as humans at the deepest level.
His latest venture, ‘Road to Vrindavan’, zeroes in on the issue of girls’ education and explores how educating girls is not about women versus men, but about our future versus our past. Having lived in Vrindavan, a city in Uttar Pradesh near Delhi, as a monk in the past, the filmmaker gets drawn to some interesting clashes between tradition and modernity which find their way into this new documentary premiering in the UK this week.
In this interview with iGlobal, Chambers reflects on the filmmaking process, some incredible experiences in India and his gender-equitable vision.
What is the inspiration behind this film, which has been four years in the making?
I received a phone call from a friend inviting me to drive 1,800 km across the west coast of India in a convoy of Tuk Tuks. The trip was to raise awareness and funds for a girls’ school in Vrindavan, the same village I lived in 20 years before as a monk, in my twenties.
I jumped at the chance of the adventure and the opportunity to go back to Vrindavan. At this point, I had established a multi company, Be Inspired Films, based in Birmingham. I made the natural connection that a film would be a powerful way to document the journey but also learn about the many challenges girls face accessing education. Thus, began a four-year journey that would see me and my team make multiple trips to India, New York and the UK to explore the issue much more deeply than I had initially anticipated.
Please share some of your experiences around the filmmaking process.
Two of our lead characters, Anuradha and Rashmi, were both told they would be married off in a matter of weeks, which would inevitably cut short their education or any hopes for pursuing life outside of marriage. They were 13 and 14 years old.
Another group of girls who feature in the film, took part in a census of the girls in their village arranged by a development organisation to find out about their concerns, fears, worries as well as their dreams, hopes and aspirations. Before this, no one had ever asked them anything about their feelings or aspirations. They went from feeling invisible and insignificant to confident, enthusiastic young women whose voices are represented in the community. They realised they shared so many of the same challenges and aspirations and felt so much strength from the relationships they developed with each other.
Night schools are an opportunity for young people who are unable to attend school in the daytime due to working on farms. Whilst filming, we saw a young girl summoned home by her grandmother to do more work on the farm, late at night, even though this was her only opportunity for . This was particularly challenging as the girl did not want to go.
What is the central message you would like the film to generate with audiences around the world?
The central message is that gender inequality is not a women's issue, it is a societal issue and we must engage men and boys as part of the change if we want it to be successful and complete. Although the film is set in India and the stories are about Indian families, I am hopeful viewers will consider how the issues in the film relate to their own lives.
My own journey on screen, as I learn about the issues, invites the viewer to internalise the questions the film raises rather than externalise them. At one point my wife speaks in the film about the irony of me exploring gender inequality in India when we have very gender-stereotyped roles in our own marriage.
Thankfully, there is quite a lot of investment into globally and it is being seen by many as a priority and should continue to be so. There is, however, very little investment into programmes that work with men, and particularly with boys, to educate and socialise them to be more gender-equitable. This is something that needs to change.
What is the enduring legacy of this film for you?
Making the film has been a transformational experience. It has enabled me to see the world through the eyes of the young women that shared their challenges and traumas with us. I was able to recognise the impact and oppression women experience when society views them as second-class citizens, where their voices are not heard, their opinions not considered important and where decisions are made for them.
I saw this happen at the hands of men and also women. I realised it is not men or women who are to blame, but the patriarchal system that so many people around the world adhere to without even questioning it.
We need to develop the insight needed for tradition to be applied in ways that uplift rather than oppress.
*You can watch ‘Road to Vrindavan’ and more details about Be Inspired Films