Language : Hindi and English | Running Time : 90 Minutes | Director : Nisha Pahuja
Post Contains Some Spoilers
In the opening scene, we are introduced to Prachi a fiery 24 year old woman. Prachi is a volunteer at Durga Vahini – the women’s wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (often regarded as the Indian equivalent of the Taliban) and teaches young girls self defence tactics. She talks about how western culture is slowly destroying our society and its moral fabric. And feels that women need to be equipped with these defense tactics to protect themselves in the dangerous times they are living in.
This is followed by the introduction of Ruhi Singh, a charming 20 year old Miss India contestant. She talks about how India needs to get over the old customs and traditions that do not give enough freedom for females and is largely male dominated. Ruhi supports the Western society and its thought process as she feels it gives women the freedom to live an independent life and make her own choices. In the first few minutes of the documentary, you get to see two contrasting viewpoints of two different women from India who exhibit different sensibilities. And this largely forms the premise of The World before Her – a documentary by Nisha Pahuja which takes a look at understanding the dreams, aspirations and the psyche of women living in India. It looks at the possibilities which our society can provide to women for a safe and harmonious existence and the imminent dangers posing a threat to these very dreams and aspirations of women.
By taking us inside a Durga Vahini training camp and the Miss India grooming session, Pahuja gives us a peek into the psyche of the two contrasting mindsets which exist within India. The insights are often fascinating but ultimately tragic and expose the fallacy that prevails in them and the people populating it.
Prachi and Ruhi the two women who are featured in the documentary come across as strong willed and possessing an ambition to make their mark in the society. Prachi is a strong willed woman who doesn’t want to be bogged down by marriage and its responsibilities as she wants to dedicate her life to the cause of Durga Vahini. She even gets livid whenever her parents mention the topic of marriage. Similarly Ruhi also feels that winning the Miss India contest will give her a chance to make a mark in the society. Somewhere these women also know that the forces surrounding them are much bigger and are ready to make sacrifices if need be to achieve their dreams. Whilst on one hand Ruhi comes across as a strong woman wanting to make a mark in the society, but at the same time she also knows that she has to explore all the possibilities before she gets married as that is the natural order of the society. You also feel sorry for Prachi whose strong will seems to be channelized towards wrong ideologies when she says she wants to become the next Sadhvi Pragya Singh – who was also a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case.
Commendably Pahuja’s direction does not take a judgmental view on the topics and ideologies she covers in the documentary and leaves it to the viewer to form their own judgments. She however exposes the fallacies rather well that prevail within our society. Whilst on one hand The Durga Vahini Camp trains women in self defence tactics and teaches them to be independent. But the causes for which they train them appear to be rather wrong like fighting against invasion Western forces and its culture. Prachi’s father who is also presumably a VHP member has no qualms about telling women to fight against the Christians and people of other religion who are invading our country. He however appears to be rather disapproving of his daughter’s commitment to being a lifetime member of Durga Vahini. In a rather shocking moment, he also has no qualms about boasting how he tried to discipline Prachi by putting a hot metal rod on her leg when she tried to disobey him as a child. Prachi however emerges as the most tragic figure in this documentary when she says she is fine with her father hitting her even at this age. He feels being her father he has a right to do it and she says instead of aborting her, the fact that he let her live is a great thing and hence she doesn’t mind him hitting her once in a while. This confession proves how womenfolk in India are largely dependent on men for their existence.
Pahuja also exposes the fallacious nature of the Miss India contest and the people who groom the contestants who proclaim to be giving women a chance to make a mark for themselves through the contest. But ultimately judge women based on their anatomy. This is fact reiterated by Ankita Sheorey a Miss India a pageant winner wherein she says how she despises the bikini round but has no option other than to strut around in it as it is the demand of her profession.
The documentary also touches upon the issue of female infanticide through the story of Pooja Chopra – a Miss India pageant winner and actress. Pooja’s mother talks about how her husband and Pooja’s father had walked out after Pooja ‘s birth as he didn’t want to have a female child and also threatened to kill her leading to his walkout and the mother’s decision to raise her independently. The determination of Pooja’s mother to raise her and Pooja’s determination to make her mother proud by wanting to win the pageant and mark her mark emerges as the most reassuring and inspiring story in the film.
Admirably Nisha Pahuja also refrains from appearing herself in the documentary while talking to people and let them do their own talking. The fact that she also got permission to shoot inside a Durga Vahini camp and the Miss India grooming session is no mean feat and makes best use of it by capturing the minutest details of both the these camps which are contrasting in nature.
The World before Her is a documentary that is powerful and thought provoking and ranks as one of the best documentaries to be made in India in recent times. It’s also heartening to see (documentary) films like this getting reasonably good support from various quarters. If films made earnestly appeal to you, then here’s a film I would strongly recommend that you go watch ASAP.