SILVERDOCS: ‘The World Before Her’ by Bari Biern

The World Before Her  (Canada) 90 minutes
With the arrival of foreign corporations in India, as well as satellite tv and the Internet, some young Indian women are now eager to escape their restrictive patriarchal society and embrace more western customs. Beauty contests are one possible path to that end. Ruji Singh is beginning a thirty-day beauty boot camp to prepare her to compete in the ‘Miss India’ pageant. Convinced that the crown is her ticket to fame, fortune and freedom, she is determined to keep her eye on the prize.

While these pageants are hugely popular in India, not everyone approves of them.  Hindu fundamentalists are fighting back, alarmed by the prospect of other cultures and religions eroding their values and customs. They’re not afraid to use violence to protect their traditions.

Another young woman, Prachi Trivedi, both teaches and studies at Durga Vahini, a militant camp for Indian girls. The camp combines indoctrination with military-style training.  he girls learn to fight perceived enemies, such as Muslims and Christians, with words and with weapons.  For women like Prachi, whose father’s fondest wish is for his daughter to become a religious martyr, Hindu fundamentalism is not just her cause. It is her life and, if need be, her death.

The 'Miss India' contestants.

In The World Before Her, director Nisha Pahuja examines both sides of this compelling struggle in modern day India. The film includes disturbing footage of Durga Vahini, marking the first time any camera crew has been allowed to film inside the camp.

The World Before Her is both enlightening and chilling. In this extraordinary film, India’s growing pains are palpable.

The film’s final screening was on June 20, 2012.

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