The World Before Her

Poster for The World Before Her

Autumn 2012 Documentary series

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 7:00pm

Acadia Cinema's Al Whittle Theatre
450 Main Street, Wolfville, NS

Directed by Nisha Pahuja

Screenplay by Nisha Pahuja

Starring Pooja Chopra, Marc Robinson, and Ankita Shorey

Rated NR · 1h 30m
English and Hindi

View trailer

The World Before Her
In the lobby of a modest Bombay hotel, twenty young women from across India arrive for an intense, month-long beauty boot camp. They are the hand-picked contestants for the Miss India pageant, the ultimate glamour event in a country that has gone mad for beauty contests. Winning the coveted title means instant stardom, a lucrative career path and, for some girls, freedom from the constraints of a patriarchal society.

But as the popularity of pageants has exploded, so have the controversies surrounding them.

Through dramatic vérité action and unprecedented behind-the-scenes access, The World Before Hersweeps back the curtain to reveal the intimate stories of young women determined to win the crown and the forces that oppose them. Hindu fundamentalists view pageants and their “international” beauty standards as immoral and a symbol of the rapid Westernization of India; protests are common.

Yet amid pageant dazzle and heated rhetoric, filmmaker Nisha Pahuja ensures the faces and voices of India’s young women remain front stage centre.

As the contestants move through beauty boot camp, Pahuja travels to another corner of India to visit an annual camp for young girls run by the Durgha Vahini, the women’s wing of the militant fundamentalist movement. Through lectures and physical combat training, the girls learn what it means to be good Hindu women and how to fight against Islam, Christianity and Western influences by any means necessary. The Indian government says these camps promote terrorism and is trying to ban them. Until now, they have never been filmed.

At the camp we meet a dynamic Durgha Vahini youth leader who has already fought on the front lines and says she is willing to die for her beliefs. Yet her passionate desire to work for the cause sparks constant household friction; her father insists she will marry and soon.

Moving between the transformative action at both camps and the characters’ private lives, The World Before Her creates a lively, provocative portrait of the world’s largest democracy at a critical transitional moment. These young women may represent opposing extremes but in their hearts they share a common dream: to help shape the future of India as she meets the world before her. Winner of the Best Canadian feature, HOT DOCS 2012, winner of the Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary Feature 2012

“What is the future for the young women of modern India? Is it adherence to thousands of years of subservient tradition or finding success through beauty? Is it deepening their love for the Hindu religion through rigorous paramilitary training or maintaining their ties to religion and culture while engaging in the exploitation of their sexuality? The chasm between these two polar opposites couldn’t be wider and yet, as we discover in Nisha Pahuja’s extraordinary and compelling documentary feature The World Before Her, the differences are often skin deep as parallel lines clearly exist beneath the surface.” (Greg Klymkiw, Klymkiw Film Corner)

“The contrasts in The World Before Her certainly work in its favor, and Pahuja’s balancing act is an accomplished one…What the girls have in common, which Pahuja makes abundantly clear without hammering the audience over the head, are belief systems that claim to liberate them while doing exactly the opposite. Singh is virtually clueless about this, but Trivedi gets it. In what may be the film’s most devastating scene, she says she knows that she’s fighting for a system that would enslave her, but what can she do? After all, she’s only a woman.

Singh and Trivedi have something else in common: As girls, the doc suggests they might easily have been killed in infancy in a system that tacitly allows such a fate. While much of The World Before Herspeaks to global womanhood, other aspects are more specific to India, but that’s what gives the film much of its life and spark.” (John Anderson, Variety)