The World Before Her is a shocking documentary. The shocks don’t come out of graphic violence or scenes of poverty. They are mainly borne out of watching how people think. It’s a war of ideologies. When you think of it, every war ever fought is when two ideologies collide. Which side are you on? That’s the question asked by Nisha Pahuja. Although, not so simplistically.
The two sides are girls in the Durga Vahini camp and the girls in the Miss India camp. One believes in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad movement and the other in the modern India. It is not as simple as one protecting Hindu culture and the other embracing a more globalized and liberal culture.
The main subjects in the film are Prachi Trivedi from the Durga Vahini and Ruhi Singh, a Miss India contestant. One of the things Nisha Pahuja masterfully handles are the contrasts. Prachi is a stern supporter of the movement. She believes that our culture needs protection and she will do anything for it. Ruhi thinks women need to be forward thinking and dream about careers just like men do.
The contrasts not just without but within. There is inherent hypocrisy in both the women and their ideologies. Prachi is seen wearing western clothing at many places. Furthermore, she is willing to kill people for her movement but believes this isn’t a terrorist camp and it's all in the name of self-defense. Martyrdom was never this scary. Ruhi, on the other hand, is not the brightest star in the sky. In one hilarious scene, she sees her picture on the front page of Bombay Times. She is elated that it is situated next to Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone. Calls herself beautiful and suspects that even the President must be reading this. She is here only to win and hates seeing others being better than her.
In one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments, Prachi’s father narrates an incident where he put a hot iron rod on her daughter’s foot. She lied to him and it was to teach her a lesson. She believes this was okay. Before I could jump to a conclusion, she talks about how she is alive because of him. He could have asked for her to be aborted or get her killed when he found out he had fathered a girl child.
In another heartbreaker, we see Pooja Chopra, the winner of the 2009 Miss India pageant recount how her mother walked out on her father. She walked out on him because he asked her to kill the girl.
Which part of India is more educated now? It’s not all black and white.
A character that stood out for me was a little girl called Chinmayee. She is articulate and seems to have a sharp mind and an impressive personality. This is what scared me the most. The children of tomorrow. They are the ones who will shape the future. The same eloquence with which she describes how she does not want Muslim friends could be used for a better purpose. What’s the difference between her and the seemingly educated Miss India contestant who says she would slap her child if he were gay?
To be concise, there are two themes at play: Women and Religion. This is further divided into two schools of thought: modern India and traditional India. People like me who have always lived in big cities embrace change and don’t think it’s bad. Then again, there is a question that can be applied to everyone in modern or rural India. Have we have forgotten our roots? What are these roots? Do we belong to a country or a planet? I could present you with a sermon but that isn’t my job.
As many documentaries, this film presents a problem but does not offer a solution. There are multiple perspectives but it’s more of a discussion than a clear line of thought. There are several documentarians who fabricate facts to drive home their point of view. I’m glad this film doesn’t do that but I wished it did a thesis on the solution more than the problem. Although it silently offers something to take back, long after the film has ended. To paraphrase Godard’s Bande à Part (1964), why can’t we all just blend in?
The World Before Her is one of those documentaries that serve you just desserts. It doesn’t hop about and provide information about things you didn’t know. It talks about things you knew but probably never acknowledged them. It doesn’t present a harsh reality and nudge you to cry. It presents a mirror. A mirror on and for the women in our country. A mirror on and for India.view less