A beauty queen and a religious fanatic paint a conflicting portrait of today's women in India, with both breaking the shackles of this male-dominated society in radically different ways.
The film contrasts two journeys: 20 contestants preparing for the Miss India pageant in Bombay and a squad of uneducated teenage girls training in a Hindu fundamentalist army in the countryside. The film's structure uses the clash of modernity with traditionalism in a country that boasts seven different nationalities and three major religions – conflict abounds.
Durgha Vahini is an outspoken youth leader training a pack of girls to be Hindu militants. She lectures and runs the girls through countless drills, like a tough boot camp sarge. They handle weapons and, in a chilling moment, Vahini proclaims matter-of-factly that she would build a bomb if needed. Vahini is articulate and surprisingly self-aware; she accepts the contradiction that she's upholding a religion that makes her subservient to men. She does this because she hates the Westernization that is encroaching on India as it grows wealthier; she considers the Miss India pageant demonic.
Several beauty contestants run through their own drills – fashion shoots, make-up sessions, fittings, lightening their skin – but these lovely young women aren't bimbos. They're well aware that they're making themselves sex objects, but also that they're gaining economic power through lucrative modeling and acting contracts. In India, where women are expected to be barefoot and pregnant, how else can a woman become independent and wealthy?
The World Before Her not only explores the contradictions of each character, but challenges stereotypes that audiences will bring. This is a fascinating Canadian film that keeps you watching and makes you think. The militants and beauty queens break the gender shackles, but are on a collision course that will only accelerate as modernization continues to sweep India. (Kinosmith)