A well made documentary is worth a few average films. But a great documentary is worth more than a dozen potboilers, however entertaining they may be. Directed by Canadian Indian Nisha Pahuja, ‘The World Before Her‘ is a brilliantly crafted documentary that has seen the light of day thanks to Anurag Kashyap who has become a messiah of sorts for good film makers.
On the surface, there is not a shred of similarity between Ruhi Singh and Prachi Trivedi. The former is a pretty girl from Jaipur, with stars in her eyes that dream of donning the coveted Miss India crown. Her parents support her dreams fully and proudly exult in the achievements of their pretty daughter who they feel is not cut out for the typical B city life. The ambitions of the middle class who want to be more upwardly mobile, more modern and more ‘with-it’ shine through Ruhi’s thoughts and words as she makes her way through various rounds of the paegent in the aspirational city of Mumbai. The latter is a die hard Hindutva loyalist and an instructor at a Durga Vahini camp. Having been brought up on a fodder of fundamentalist tenets, a lot of them from her father, Prachi’s dream is to create more and more women like herself and mercilessly subjugate anyone who poses a threat to Hinduism, namely Muslims and Christians. Hatred for Mahatma Gandhi because he preached non violence and careless acceptance of guns and killing roll off her tongue with equal ease. Prachi’s andrgynous features also create a sharp contrast to Ruhi’s ultra feminine looks, a very smart casting coup.
Pahuja manages to take us behind the scenes in the paegent as well as inside the Durga Vahini camp, a first time ever for both places. She also manages to cut seamlessly between the two completely dissimilar milieus with laughable ease and does not, even once show prejudice towards either. So the audience is left to decide which one they prefer, if any. I was deeply disturbed by both. After a while it was difficult to decide whether Dr. Jamuna Paiinflicts more damage on the young hopefuls or the head of the Durga Vahini. The Miss India paegent was like a farce with shapeless and debauch males (Marc Robinson, the paegent director being the worst of the lot) commenting on female body parts the way we would a slab of meat on a butcher’s block. And the Durga Vahini camp was akin to any military camp where the very young are lectured and brainwashed till their impressionable minds have no opinions other than what is taught. They smilingly pick up guns and relentlessly go about martial arts training, as unconcerned as other young teenage girls.
Go watch the documentary everyone. Watch it because it is rare to find an honest and unbiased voice in the world of films. Watch it because you have never heard a voice like Prachi’s. Watch is because the battle of guns and gowns, fundamentalism and fashion is fascinating. Watch it if you have a sister/daughter/niece who wants to be a beauty queen. Watch it if you think Hindus are a peace loving community. Watch it ANYWAY!
Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa June 2014