The World Before Her
Rating: Four stars
Here’s another one for the must-see list. Call it A Tale of Two Indias. Without passing judgement, Indo-Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja combines some shockingly divergent viewpoints, revealing footage and compelling characters to contrast the lives of young Indian women on extremely different paths. She takes us on a fascinating journey into a Mumbai “beauty camp,” where lovely young hopefuls undergo vigorous workouts and Botox and skin-whitening treatments — “polished like a diamond,” as diction coach Sabira Merchant puts it — to compete for the title of Miss India. The western-style beauty pageant is perceived as a springboard into a career in India’s beauty business that, despite its overt sexism and degradation, can offer impoverished women financial stability and equality in a patriarchal society. Pooja Chopra, the Miss India 2009 winner with a tragic background, gratefully defends it as a chance to empower girls eager to fulfill their dreams. Shweta, an articulate would-be beauty queen accused of abandoning traditional Hindu values, adds: “It’s not like I’m becoming an American. A lot of Americans are taking up yoga, so should I say Americans are becoming Indian?”
In severe, ironic contrast to this glamorous milieu is the Durga Vahini militant training camp, where Hindu fundamentalists indoctrinate teenage girls, teaching them combat skills and preaching subservience, the benefits of martyrdom, the idea that education is for women who have “their heads in the clouds” and intolerance of Muslim and Christian influences.
“Girls should be married by the age of 18 because by the time they’re 25, they’ll have become so strong-willed, you won’t be able to tame them,” one leader sternly proclaims. She could be describing the fate of Prachi Trivedi, a once-rebellious tomboy routinely beaten into submission by her strict, old-school father and destined for a life of marital subservience. This tragic character has resigned herself to her fate, expressing gratitude to her abusive dad for sparing her from becoming one of 750,000 fetuses aborted in India each year on the basis of gender.
© Copyright 2013