The World Before Her, 2012.
Directed by Nisha Pahuja.
Starring Pooja Chopra, Marc Robinson, Ankita Shorey, Ruhi Singh, and Prachi Trivedi
Traditional and Western values collide as one group of women attends a Hindu fundamentalist training camp while the other competes at the Miss India Beauty Pageant.
20 hand-picked contestants attend a month long beauty boot camp in hopes of being crowned Miss India; two hopefuls Ruhi and Ankita provide an insider’s perspective as they attempt to make their dream a reality. The other story unfolds at a Durga Vahini camp which is operated by the women’s wing of the nationalist Hindu group Vishva Hindu Parishad; serving as the designated drill sergeant is Prachi who relishes her position of authority and allows the filmmakers access to her personal beliefs and home life.
An interesting choice was not to make use of voice over narration; instead title cards are utilized to distill relevant facts as well as archival footage to put the political and social climate in the proper context. The presence of writer-director Nisha Pahuja is practically absent from the cinematic proceedings except for when she asks a question off-camera which allows the interviewees to take centre stage for the entire documentary.
At first glance women who are being taught how to defend their religious beliefs with the aid of weapon training and those walking around in bikinis receiving instructions about proper grooming appear to be as different as night and day. In reality, the two situations are the flipside of the same coin as the participants are being manufactured to conform to the ideals of others.
When Prachi declares she hates Mahatma Gandhi for his nonviolence resistance and her father is subsequently interviewed, the viewer realizes that the hatred has been passed from one generation to another. The situation is not much better at the beauty pageant where contestants are given botox injections to make their faces more symmetrical and sexually appealing.
The filmmakers made the right decision to narrow the focus of those who are profiled as it personalizes their journey. Disturbing stories are told such as the tale of Miss India 2009 Pooja Chopra whose mother left her father to prevent her from being killed simply because she was a baby girl; another is related by a father who proudly tells of branding his daughter with a hot iron so to teach her a lesson. It’s a sad commentary as the world for women in India remains male-centric and averse to nurturing individualism.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★