The World Before Her (2012) Poster

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Victims to both extremes...sadly
persian-belle29 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Just watched this film and really enjoyed it. I don't have much knowledge of the traditional Hindu culture or its fashion/modelling/pageant. This documentary depicts two very contrasting and opposing worlds existing for the women in the Indian society of today:

1. There is the world of the nationalist and Hindu extremists. They run fundamentalist schools in which they teach the young women that Hinduism is the only way and that they should do (even kill) to defend their values against the evil enemy, notably Christians and Muslims. They take girls between 15-25 years of age, when they are most easily influenced by this sort of brainwashing. According to the teaching of these schools, women have a "duty" to marry and reproduce, they should not attend regular schools (except for learning to read and write) but they should know how to use a gun to fight for their religion. These schools are often called "terrorist schools" for their support of violence. Their students take pride in having no Muslim friends. The girl who was interviewed along with her family as the one representing this group of women, admitted that she likes being scared of, and that if she had the authority she would have very much liked to be able to physically hit the girls in her group (she was now a group leader). When you hear the fact that her father has been hitting her "a lot", you can imagine where all that anger comes from... The same anger that would eventually be ventilated as violence towards the "evil" ones, the ones opposing their Hindu "values". As these women are not allowed outside the home much, this may be an outlet for their frustrations, boredom and/or anger.

2. On the other hand, you see a totally different group of women, who, in my opinion, are also victims of a sexist society. According to the film, there aren't many opportunities for most women to gain independence and have a career, and beauty business is one of the few available. Many Indian girls aspire to become models, Bollywood actresses and ultimately Miss India. The problem lies not in what they want, but in the way in which these are achieved: They would have to shed the sari and many traditional values and even their own comfort level. They often have to receive Botox treatments to look "perfect", and this is done by actually measuring their facial features to the tenth of cm. Excuse me, but isn't that an insult to one's natural beauty? Doesn't it mean that if you remained yourself, you probably wouldn't stand a chance of ever competing there? Who's winning the crown? The Botox treatment of the girls themselves? And perfect according to whom? What's the standard? Are these people out of their minds? Can't they see that this sort of criteria and propaganda is putting enormous pressure on most average Indian girls and even flattens the self-esteem of the pageants themselves? Their legs were so skinny and shapeless I wanted to puke. What's this sort of pageant trying to achieve? Are there any intellectual criteria in this, like whether she has attended university or not? Like if she can speak up for herself, etc.? No. It's purely physical. These girls have a lot of physical and emotional stress during a whole month of beauty boot camp, only to learn that a woman is most valued by her looks and not even her natural looks, but what other people want from her. She is valued if she has an unnaturally skinny body. As an Indian woman, she learns that she doesn't need education or a career other than doesn't use her external beauty. (I believe that the film doesn't portray the atrocities of the pageant world enough... or is it intentional? I doubt that they are trying to glorify this, although it's shown under a more positive light than the so-called terrorist camps!)

In short, both groups are slaves to their sex and to the abuse of the society. Very saddening.

I'm sure that there must be women in India who are not necessarily part of either group, who have careers that need training and education and have nothing to do with their gender, who take pride in their Indian ancestry and at the same time do not give in to any fundamentalist thinking, who are striving to build a better world, where women are respected and elevated in status, by their many many many abilities rather than by the size of their legs and breasts!
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Movies talks about women in India(urban India) & Bharat(rural India).
draditiseth21 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This movie talks about how there are two Indias,the rural India with conservative values and urban Indian with modern values,the documentary shows how parallel life runs ,depending on what kind of family you are born into.According to me both sides have good things & flaws,like for example,the traditional camps talk about patriotism and empowering women in their own way but also also about how women shouldn't have careers while the beauty pageant camp looks all modern and liberal but is again sexist and uses things like Botox & skin whitening which i think is shameful.But of course there is a third kind of Indian women ,women like me ,who were bought up to believe that you can do anything that a man can do,education & knowledge is power,that you should have your own income so that you can have financial stability,be independent,there are more women like me in India,I am a practicing Hindu,a Gandhian like most Indians,we believe in karma,tolerance & non violence.So this documentary gives you one view of India,it is not a comprehensive guide to India.
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This is a must watch Documentary
pace-26-2064576 November 2014
So, I had my doubts about the content of this film. Nether the less I watched it. The movie stimulated many thoughts and emotions, it provided a very interesting look at the options and choices of the women of India.

More than this though it displayed the human condition from extreme view points. The film re-enforcing the fact that as human being we tend to place judgements on situations and people without ever truly knowing the environmental conditions creating them.

I highly recommend this film, what ever part of society one comes from this film has something to offer in opening the mind.
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Engaging documentary about culture clash in India
paul-allaer8 March 2014
"The World Before Her" (2012 release from India; 90 min.) is a documentary focusing on two women. As the movie opens, we get to meet Ruhi, a 19 yr. old who is in the final group of 20 young women competing for the title of Miss India 2011. The beauty contest boot camp will run for 30 days leading up to the pageant itself. Next we get to meet Prachi, a 24 yr. old who is a camp leader at Durga Vahini, a Hindu nationalistic training camp for women between the ages of 15 and 23. We also get to know the respective families of these young women.

Couple of comments: first and foremost, kudos to director Nisha Pahuja for bringing us these insights into Indian society, it was an eye-opener for me (I've never been in to India). Second, beware, the documentary contains some disturbing archive footage of Hindu extremists brutally attacking women for the heinous crime of being seen with a man or for being in a bar, or for simply being a woman. There is also some fairly shocking footage of the beauty pageant contestants getting botox injections and skin whitening treatments. Third, one can only imagine the pressure that weighs on girls and women in India. At one point Ruhi's mother describes how disappointed and let down she felt when giving birth and being told it was another girl. We should all be thankful for living in a country like the US where, compared to India, women are treated and live like queens.

I saw this movie at the 2014 International Women's Day festival held by the Cincinnati World Cinema, and the screening was PACKED I am happy to report. "The World Before Her" raises a lot of poignant questions, and is worth checking out, be it in the theater, on DVD or on Amazon Instant Video. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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Thought Provoking
allowecious11 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The binary structure of this documentary, showing the contrast between a Hindu nationalist camp for girls (Old India) and a boot camp for the 2012 Miss India finalists (Modern India), allows for insight into the motivations,contradictions, and aspirations of young Indian women seeking to forge their identity,live up to expectations, and make a success of themselves, in a country with a deep and ancient culture facing rapid but uneven modernization and westernization.

Both paths are shown to have their pitfalls. The girls being indoctrinated to defend Old Mother India are taught discipline, modesty, and a certain fierce self-empowerment. But they are also taught violence, hatred of Muslims and Christians,devaluation of education for women, and strict limitation of their lives to the role of wife and mother. The beauty contestants believe they can achieve all that they want, and if successful, will have fame, fortune and influence, but are also victims of objectification, sexism, and unrealistic beauty standards. Most of us already realize that a woman can be simultaneously empowered and denigrated by a beauty contest, and listening to the individual stories of these very articulate young women reinforces that; but their stories, including that of a past Miss India winner, also bring home the fact that a particular woman could view such contests as completely empowering, based on her particular background, life story and goals - how the pageants helps her to move away from what she wants to shed and towards what she wants to accomplish.

Unfortunately, some reviewers of this documentary have taken it to represent the situation of all the women of India, when it was in fact specifically intended to reveal two extremes - the ends of the spectrum and not the vast middle ground of the millions of women in between. I note that one reviewer even said that she no longer wishes to visit India after viewing the documentary! That is always the danger of highlighting any negative or extreme aspect of a culture. Very often it becomes synonymous in the viewer/reader's mind as representing the entirety of that culture.
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Eye opener
jaysharmad24 May 2016
I am Hindu and after watching this movie, I was shocked to know that still there are places where we have Hindu extremists. I am so sad for the father of trainer of Durga vahini. On one end he is happy with her, to be a trainer and on the other end he wants her to marry a good guy and live a normal life. I don't understand why parents like him leave their children confused. He will definitely regret for the actions that his daughter will take. Apart from his daughter, he is spoiling the future of all other students there in Durga Vahini.

Such institutes should be banned in India. How will we have peace and harmony in India, if our kids join such institutes and carry so much rage and violence inside for others.
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An eyeful and an eye-opener
rhondasmit8 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie to pass the time, fully expecting to answer email and play a few games while it was on in the background. However, I was soon so absorbed by the contrast in characters and their world views that I had turned off the computer.

This review may contain spoilers.

There are two 'camps' contrasted in the film: One for future beauty- queens, complete with fashion advisers, make-up artists, publicists, photographers, etc. that prepare contestants for the Miss India contest; and one for girls with 'traditional Hindu values' to prepare them for life... as mothers and terrorists, apparently.

The personalities encountered are engaging and quickly move beyond the stereotype; one learns about the young women's families, backgrounds, ambitions, dreams, and fears, whether they be the beauty or the beast... OK, "beast" is a harsh description of the homely camp counselor who thrives on the fear she instills in her charges, and who doesn't want to become a wife and mother, thus defying the very traditions she espouses, but wants to further the cause of traditional Hindu culture by making sure other females will; but she is no beauty, not inside nor out.

Watching her view the Miss India contest on television, with her abusive father (he branded her for lying as a child and cheerfully admits to beating her often), I saw an envious woman, wishing she could compete with the westernized culture. If she were born beautiful, which culture would she choose?

But then you listen to the beauty-queen contestant, whose mother saved her life, when her father wanted her killed for being a female baby - and nothing is simple anymore. A culture where female life is valued only for the production of male offspring, and as a domestic servant, versus a culture where a female is only worth something when she is beautiful; neither is desirable.

I have been fascinated by India since childhood, and a trip there was on my 'bucket list'. After viewing this film, I have removed this item.
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A Good Effort With Copious Shortcomings
Prabhat_KS27 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
To begin with, I very much appreciate the fact that this film deliberated upon sensitive topic of female-foeticide. I applaud Pooja Chopra's mother for frankly sharing her experience about this abomination.

Secondly, the movie touched upon the topic of corporal punishment meted out to children by Indian parents. Description of corporal punishment meted out to Prachi was unnerving. Its ironic that children (here Prachi) actually justify it in spite of concrete evidence of psychological impacts in later life.

Lastly, I laud the effort of the film-makers to boldly document the events occurring in niches of Indian society. The general effort was aimed at reforming Indian society from within. This is highly laudable.

I have certain reservations with the content matter of the documentary too.

1. I'm a bit surprised by the choice of subjects for the documentation. What exactly the documentary wanted to conclude? At one end the documentary portrays structural and functional constraints at work in Indian society which inhibits women to pursue certain lines of occupation. At another end it insinuates the indoctrination of a bunch of Indian girls by an extreme-right and nationalist organisation. In between it throws punches on religious extremism and religio- political violence.

2. What share of Indian women actually aspire to become Miss India or to join Durga Vahini ? I belong to the Hindi heartland of India and I came to know of Durga Vahini only after watching this documentary! Millions of young Indian women aspire to join Civil Services, police, PSUs and Armed Forces every year. On Republic Day 2015 India also showcased all-female military contingents in the parade. I'm surprised at the choice of nano-scaled niche groups which this documentary tries to portray. According to Wikipedia, the strength of Durga Vahini was 8000 in 2002. I'm pretty sure, even today that figure would not have crossed 50,000. Amongst 50 crore Indian women does these niche groups matter?

3. This documentary, like most others, has been made by a film-maker averse to nationalist and conservative world view. This fact is explicit by the facts provided and questions asked in the narrative. This stance can't be called 'liberal' because a liberal world view will respect the choices of a person and wouldn't vie for favourable responses. For example, in a question (towards the end of the film) the interviewer asks about Prachi Trivedi's reaction to 'westernization'- whatever that means. I personally know only of 'globalization' as an influence. As a model herself remarks during the film, will practice of Yoga in US be called 'Indianisation'. The words - Globalization and Westernizaion- are sure to elicit differing responses from a nationalist, which Trivedi is.

4. I want to comment on some conclusions presented in the documentary.

i) The documentary tells that "Over the past 20 years, Hindu nationalism has become a pervasive cultural and political force in India". I won't comment on political aspect here, but I can safely say that nationalism itself is not a major cultural force in India. A variant of patriotism is at display on national festivals but it doesn't necessarily translates into nationalism.

ii) The documentary asserts that "Hindu extremists are also called the 'Indian Taliban'". This was a statement made for political ends by leaders of a particular grouping. Who else calls whom so? You've trivialised the factual content by such loose statements. Taliban is a reactionary political grouping in Afganistan and Pakistan. It was midwifed by Americans during Soviet invasion. There are orthodox and reactionary political groupings in all thriving democracies. That's why they are 'democracies'.

iii) The documentary gives the following conclusions: a) "Hindu extremists have committed countless atrocities across India". b) "Many believe Hindu extremists pose a greater threat to national security than Muslim ones". As I understood the documentary was about the structural and functional constraints for women in society and feminist perspectives. Such statements make the documentary wade into political waters which polarises the opinion.

5. As the documentary was recommended by a very close friend, I made detailed observations. Doing so, I found some factual errors in the documentary.

> Translation for "Desh" as "Nation" instead of "Country" in the subtitles provided by the film-maker. There's a lot of difference between the two especially when you are wading in political waters. (@ 9:36 min in DVD)

> "Main wahan pe top pe jaungi" has been omitted altogether in the subtitles (@ 18:28 min). This omission changes a viewer's perception of the young girl getting trained at Durga Vahini's camp. Poor editing folks.

> "Parishad" refers to 'Vishwa Hindu Parishad' which is an 'organisation'. It is translated as "movement" instead. (@ 30:30 min in DVD). There is a major difference between the two.

> Insinuated "Hinsa" as "murder" (@ 54:51 min). Its 'violence' not 'murder'.

> Added "Culture" in the subtitles (@ 56:28 min.) It is not said by the speaker in the video. Come on folks, these are words which carry weight especially when you are making a documentary on sensitive topics.

In the end, "The World Before Her" is just another documentary made with preconceived notions about certain cultural moorings. It does touch some burning issues but falls flat when it comes to objective and in-depth analysis of deep rooted cultural traditions. If I may paraphrase the statement of a Miss India contestant, 'The World Before Her' certainly has the oomph to make it to the front page of Bombay Times. But alas, that is the last thing on which I'll judge success of anything.
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One India: Many Bharat
samyaksambuddha9 October 2019
A new kind of documentary with sharp issues that are very part of India we live in. A new kind of change that India is part of manifests it in various forms. The new age girl seeks to the change the old values and adopt the new ones but the other section sees it as the violation of the intricate culture and heritage. One group sees herself as the next Priyanka Chopra while the other goes to see herself as Goddess Durga. The two worlds with the different belief system crisscross each other that this leads to tensions. The sharp tensions are shown in a well organized manner. The dark sides of an extremist groups like call for violence, chauvinism, polarity are something that the new generation is learning in some pockets of the nation. This set of ideology is challenging multiculturalism and non-violent ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. In the name of the empowering women these groups are somewhere leading the nation into unknown and dark lands. Similarly, the other half is not free from becoming mere product of western ways of life. Being a brand is the new motivation of the urban middle and higher class girls. The west is using this mentality to utilize the huge Indian market as per their call.
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Shocking image of fundamentalists
sharondsouza-7953617 September 2015
In the first 15 mins of the documentary, I related to the ideologies of the Miss India aspirant but was awed more by the mental strength of the girls at the camp. However as the movie rolled I was shocked to learn the outrageous teachings of the hindu nationalist group. Teachings filled with sexism, hatred, killing, baseless historical references, are impressed on the minds of growing girls. Having grown up in India, it is quite unacceptable for me to see that there are people brewing such violence & hatred in our next generation. They are killing innocence & freedom. The movie leaves us with a startling image of an evolving India, a country divided into literally 2 halves!
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A necessary watch!
BalconyRow26 September 2015
The World Before Her is one of the most significant, thought- provoking films in the recent times - one that shocks, saddens, amazes and leaves you with more questions than answers. It tucks in, within a story, little stories of dreams, despair, courage and hope. It opens your eyes to a world you may not have seen or entirely known before. And yet, presents it all in a non-judgmental light. The director feeds your mind with questions and lets you settle for an answer without imposing or influencing.

Indo-Canadian director Nisha Pahuja documents two contrasting worlds, two conflicting Indias, two diverging ideologies through the eyes of primarily two subjects - Prachi Trivedi, a 20-year old instructor at the Durga Vahini camp, (the women's wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an Indian right-wing nationalist outfit propagating the Hindutva ideology) and Ruhi Singh, a Jaipur-based, 19-year old Miss India aspirant.

The film lets you into their worlds through first-account narratives and base your opinions even as they sway and swerve until it becomes hard to conclude about the two in the same light you set out with. Every subsequent scene is a revelation, adding a new layer to the characters.

There seem no similarities between the two at the outset but as you get to know them closer, you figure both crave one thing - freedom. To be what they choose to be, to live the way they desire to. Not how the world expects them to be.

Even as the film makes you look at the brighter side of the modelling world (like how the beauty industry offers equal platform to men and women) and the darker side of Prachi's world at the start, it scrapes their contrarian sides eventually - exposing the hypocrisies of our society and questioning your judgments about the two girls.

While every scene is memorable and adds value, one that is heartbreaking and deeply disturbing is of the mother of one of the contestants (Pooja Chopra) talking about her broken marriage. Of why she had to walk out of it. I remember reading her story a few years back but hearing it again stirred me to the core.

I don't know why it took me this long to see The World Before Her. I would strongly recommend anyone who still hasn't, to watch it. But more importantly, and as Nisha Pahuja points out in this lovely interview (below) with TBIP, I wish the documentary, beyond just being seen, can actually shake people, particularly men, out of their beliefs and force them to rethink the roles and the rules of our society. "The only way things are going to move forward for women in this country is if men start to understand patriarchy in two ways: one, as a construct that limits them because it gives them a particular role to play and so it limits their freedom, their ability to know who they really are. Two, they need to question the moral wrongness of oppressing somebody based on gender."

Source: review-nisha-pahuja.html
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Thought-provoking story of women in India, choose - Beauty Camp or Boot camp
ketgup8313 June 2015
With drastic change in the Indian Culture over the years, there has been sudden change in lifestyle of an Indian woman as well. Gone are the days when a girl's purpose of life was to get married and settle down with kids. Come 21st century, a female in the modernized India is aspiring and build her career path, Unfortunately, the rural India is still lingering under the shadows of hypocrisy and live within limited choices of life.

The World Before Her tells a contradicting story of 2 people - rustic and violent Prachi Trivedi who go to any extent to protect her religion and sweet and simple Ruhi Singh who breaks the barrier of common society thinking by participating in Miss India pageant.

Directed by Nisha Pahuja, The World Before Her is ground-reality and hair-raising 90 minutes drama which give you goosebumps. Pahuja has very well presented two parts of India - one who follows the old age customs whose empowerment, oppression and dignity is being utilized for political motives and the other part where parents are encouraging their child to pursue their dreams. It is perfectly blended with hard- hitting drama of different mindsets and depressing state of Insia. Screenplay does falter in the end. Editing is crispy. Hats-off to Art direction and cinematography. Background score gels well with the mood of the film.

Thought-provoking story of women in India, choose - Beauty Camp or Boot camp. Good 3/5
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Interesting but rather biased at times
y2jayesh26 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I thought this was a fair attempt to explore India as she finds herself at a crossroads - should she embrace 21st century Western consumerism or should she regenerate her ancient Hindu roots which has withstood the test of time and years of foreign invasion and occupation?

The documentary looked at the situation from the perspective of two women - one aspiring to be a beauty queen and the other wishing to dedicate her life to the Hindu movement.

These two women were the polar opposites at two ends of a very large spectrum. I imagine most of India wishes to embrace the changes taking place, yet retain its culture and perhaps don't view them as mutually exclusive.

What was very disappointing was that the film verged towards an anti-Hindu stance at times - it disproportionately focused on a handful of events to demonstrate a resurgence of right-wing Hindu nationalism. However the events were in response to extreme times in India - the first the killing of a Christian missionary was a response to the billions being pumped into India to prey on it's poor and illiterate population with a view to converting them to Christianity. The other was the riots in 2002, which was a direct response of 58 Hindus (women and children) being burnt alive on a train by a group of Muslims.

There was a part which suggested Hindu extremists are potentially more dangerous that Muslm extremists - this is laughable given the amount of terror attacks that have been carried out in India by Islamists and also the fact that it is surrounded by two hostile Islamic nations, one of which (Pakistan) is funding Islamic terror groups to wage a proxy war on India. I don't know the figures but it is safe to say that more Indians have died at the hands of Islamic terror attacks than any Hindu ones (in recent history there has only been one terror attack linked to Hindus and that killed 4 people - whilst inexcusable, this is a drop in the ocean when compared to victims of Islamic terror in India .
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