Published May 04, 2012Because the tenets of Western culture are imposing on the many societies keen on keeping their women subjugated and controlled by some arbitrary religion, modern India is finding itself at a crossroads with conflicting extremist ideologies.
The educated, liberal, urban, middle-to-upper class subsection has a more progressive, or contrarily, lascivious perspective on the role of women, allowing them a voice and opinion in scenarios where sexual objectification is implicit, such as the Miss India pageant. Diametrically opposing this Westernized cultural modification are the many camps dedicated to brainwashing young women into being Hindu extremists, accepting their role as passive baby makers while learning how horrible and evil Christians and Muslims are, along with the ins and outs of operating semi-automatic weapons and serrated hunting knives.
It's a juxtaposition analyzed and detailed in Nisha Pahuja's thoughtfully constructed and frequently frustrating documentary about potential paths for Indian woman, weaving together interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of a young Hindu extremist and the contestants of the 2011 Miss India pageant.
Obviously, the perspective is slanted towards female empowerment, noting that the Miss India pageant, while sexist, is often the only avenue for young women wanting more for their lives than repressed domesticity. The interviewees, most of whom are surprisingly insightful and articulate, discuss the sacrifice of being reduced to mere objects for the purpose of personal expression of identity. Scenes of the girls doing a catwalk with sheets over their head so the pageant runner can focus on "hot and sexy legs" drive this idea home.
On the other side of things is a young, seemingly lesbian – although, instead of acknowledging this she implies that God had a different plan by making her both a boy and a girl – extremist camp leader, whose rigid, borderline terrorist championing of Hinduism contradicts her hesitancy to settle down and crap out a bunch of kids. Interviews where she discusses deserving routine beatings from her father are almost as astounding as her admitting she would kill to defend her religion without hesitation.
While the footage included and intimate interviews drive The World Before Her forward through sheer awe, it's Pahuja's all-encompassing vision of India's political climate, as mirrored by the limited opportunities for women, which gives the doc its vitality and dramatic heft. It's extremely unlikely that anyone could watch this without having a strong reaction. (Stampede)