South Asian Projects
Director’s Name: Vinita Negi, India
Prabha,85, volunteer traffic controller and one of the first Indian female car rally drivers, wants to restore her vintage car Austin 7, 1934, and participate in one last car rally.
Prabha is a single old woman living alone in the family-centric, patriarchal Indian society. Her car is her prized possession. During her youth they traveled thousands of kilometers across the country, at 85, Prabha spends hours managing traffic at busy city junctions.
She has made a little world for herself, a world of vintage car enthusiasts and rally participants. A blunder made by a mechanic broke down her Austin, turning her life into a quest to fix it back and go for a last journey together.
Vintage car parts are expensive and rare. The delicate and lengthy restoration process needs expertise and commitment. Prabha is resources strapped, alone, and struggling to accept her own age. Fellow vintage car owners, rich elite men, approach her to buy her car but, for Prabha, it is a souvenir of her youth. She often says “When you live alone, objects become family”. Prabha is seen hunting for rare engine parts, along the narrow lanes of old Pune city. Haggling with mechanics, much younger men, who do not take her seriously or often mock her. Prabha is offered a solution in the form of turning the car ‘electric’ but, she rejects the idea of Austin losing its sanctity almost as a refusal to be slowed down by age and turned redundant.
In this journey, Prabha is challenged by obstacles of age, health, limited resources, and a fatal pandemic. We see Prabha living alone, taking care of herself, being passionate about her work, and dedicated to her car. We see her loneliness and the challenge of being a single old woman in a family-oriented Indian society.
After a lot of struggle Prabha’s story has taken a hopeful turn. Her passionate quest has reached the rally organizers and she has been invited to the next 21 Gun Salute Rally, 2023. Vintage car collectors from across the country have come together to help her with her car restoration. Her car will be sent to Jaipur to India’s biggest car restorer and the rally organizers will run a nationwide crowdfunding campaign to fund the complete restoration of her car.
Prabha is determined she says “My beloved will get well soon”. The next eight months are crucial either she will restore her car and fulfill her dream or she will finally learn to let go and pass on her car to someone who can take care of it after she is gone.
She will try to sue the old mechanic, collect rare parts, and maneuver in a still male-dominated automobile world; making a place for herself. Their unique relationship will tell the story of a woman’s eternal love for life, her refusal to lose agency over it, and her resolve to give it purpose even during its twilight.
Old age and redundancy are commonly associated together. We fear wrinkles, an aging body, and our mortality. Especially, old women and their lives do not occupy any space in the popular imagination.
In Prabha’s case, her quest for the purpose had been lifelong. She chose to not marry when it was unheard of, participated in rallies when most women didn’t drive, and started controlling traffic at 62 when most people retire.
How does she find purpose in life and how does she look at the end of it, drove me towards her?
In my journey, I found a story of silent feminist courage, existential drive, found families, and intergenerational friendship. Her car ‘Austin’ is also a metaphorical vehicle to her inner life; a tale of withering bodies, a refusal to be dismissed by age and vulnerability, a desire to relive youth and its rebellion, and the last taste of adventure during the twilight of life.
In a rapidly alienating modern world, as secluded in person as connected online, we all are constantly reimagining our purpose in life, our relationship to things and work; and our place in the world. I believe Prabha’s story can empower us in embracing old age as just another phase in life and look at old people with the same empathy.
We will be with Prabha as she encounters hopes and disappointments in this journey, as she scrounges old workshops for parts, and haggles with much younger mechanics. One would often wonder why is she troubling herself when she could just retire, why bother at this age? We will rejoice in her little victories when she manages to get rare parts and when the work looks promising. We will see Prabha encounter challenges when she is time and again made to ponder if she should just turn the car electric or if she should give it away to someone.
‘Car’, a modern machine still associated with men, in this case, is a six-decade-old companion and a metaphor for her existence. As Prabha tackles an alienating modern world, she will weave a narrative of fierce feminine courage across decades in a patriarchal Indian society. Hers is a story that challenges the representation of old Asian women.
An 88-years-old vintage car is towed on a flatbed truck, and in it sits 85-years-old Paragliding through a sea of modern cars. Curious passers-by look on and take pictures. Prabha is beaming with pride over her prized companion and their shared history. Prabha is hopeful that her beloved car will be restored soon and she will embark on the last journey to commemorate their lifelong association.
Prabha, 85, has the distinction of being one of the first long-distance female car rally drivers from India. In her youth, she has been widely profiled, interviewed, and celebrated for her accomplishments. She has also been controlling traffic on busy Pune roads for over two decades now, another work which has made her a local celebrity, a widely loved and admired public figure, or ‘Austin granny’ as the kids around call her. Prabha inhabits a small, little world of vintage car lovers, again as a lovely oddball. She is still the only female member of the elite club of wealthy men. Against all her obstacles, be it age, resources, or the modern world which does not understand her, she harbors the will to fix her beloved car and participate in the 21 Gun Salute rally, the biggest vintage car rally in India.
Prabha’s story is enriched with many layers and metaphors, it is the story of an unlikely protagonist with an inanimate partner, working against all odds to accomplish a goal bigger than her. Her challenges are the worldly challenges we all face, but her will stands as testimony to her fiercely independent past. Car is a metaphor and Prabha is a protagonist working towards the universal quest of finding meaning in life.
A colorful, eccentric world of car rallies and enthusiasts forms the backdrop of the film.
Shot in an observational style, the narrative backbone of the film is Prabha’s present life and her many efforts toward restoring her Austin. Her past and history with Austin will be weaved in through old pictures, video archives, interviews, and rally footage, which highlight the emotional significance of her quest, visually show Prabha across ages, changes in Indian society, and how the autophile world still remains a male-dominated arena. Prabha’s conversations with her female friends give perspective on the status of women in India across decades. Television blaring out tele serials about ideal daughters and mothers adds to the humorous contrast to Prabha’s independent spirit. Austin is visualized as a physical extension of Prabha. We will see them across seasons and different garages, withering away and waiting. Austin being taken from one garage to another is a recurring visual motif. The commotion of traffic, crowds, busy city life and shrill sounds of the car workshop in contrast with the relative quiet of Prabha’s house will add to the opposing rhythms of the two worlds she inhabits. Prabha grappling with modern technology, incessantly logging and archiving her days reflect her alienation from the modern world and her need to construct an infallible structure around herself. She is forced to face her vulnerabilities, fears, and mortality. “Age counts you know! I never believed when my father would say this to me!” Prabha remarks now.
Prabha’s quest has found support from the rally organizers. She has been invited to the next rally and the restoration of her car will be funded by vintage car collectors across the country. She is hopeful that her beloved car will get better soon.
The next rally awaits her in January 2023 and she still continues to work towards restoring her Austin, to relive her youth and its rebellion. one last time.
Vinita Negi is a graduate of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India, La Femis Paris Université d’été, and IDFAcademy.
“Cat Dog”, the film school diploma she edited, won the Premier Prix at Cannes Cinefondation 2020 and the Orona- NEST award at San Sebastian Film Festival, 2020. As a filmmaker-producer, she has been selected to present her film at Docedge Kolkata, DMZ Docs South Korea, Dok Leipzig Co-Pro Market, etc. “Prabha” is her first feature-length documentary. She is the founder of Bricolage Collective Films, a collective of young Indian filmmakers and graduates of FTII Pune, the national film school of India.
‘Prabha’ has been in research and development for three years now. During this, we have covered the important development in her story with the first two mechanics. We head back to production in July when her Austin will be taken to Jaipur to be worked on by the biggest vintage car restorer in India. As Mr. Kapur is an expert in Austin restoration and the entire work is being funded by car collectors across the country we will be following the restoration work closely along with developments in Prabha’s personal life. We plan to film the next rally in January 2023 and conclude the filming with Prabha’s retirement from traffic work in March 2023.
We are in mid-production and are in talks with a few international co-producers to come on board as our European partners. We have also been selected to pitch in the upcoming EBS H-Docs pitch and hope to finalize Asian co-producers from the forum. We plan to wrap up production in March 2023. We are simultaneously editing and plan to participate in forums for feedback and fundraising. We plan to finish post-production and release the film in November 2023.