San Diego Asian Film Festival 2012 presents The World Before Her

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Nisha Pahuja

Rating: 7

Website: The World Before Her

Coverage of the women entering the Miss India pageant, and girls being trained in militant Fundamentalist Durga Vahini camps, make for a contrasting film of the changing Hindu outlook on women as they enter the 21st century.

This was a hard movie for me to understand, though of course I empathized with the women in the film a great deal. America is much more open when it comes to women expressing themselves, deciding IF they want to marry at all much less to whom, and openly expressing their sexuality – a fact much bemoaned in the film. The women in the pageant actually have to attend a month-long training course of their own, in which they’re taught to take care of themselves with their beauty as a commodity, and prepared for the pageant as much as possible. The girls sent to the militant camps on the other hand, are trained in weaponry and self defense, yes, but also religious dogma that seems to demand they marry and be a good proper Hindu wife just as soon as they are able, never mind legal age. Clips of these two events are interspliced with eachother throughout the film, again making for fascinating contrast. Much to-do is made about the persecution of Hindu religious beliefs in the Vahini camps, apparently by Muslims and Christians, and because how women are treated even in modern society often has plenty to do with religious beliefs, the reconciliation of modern sensibilities and traditional values tend to lead to a lot of confusion for these Indian women. The fundamentalist Vahini camps can be admired for their diligence in training of self defense, but with the ideals posed behind them, makes for some very dangerous girls being sent out into the world. These girls, for their graduation, proudly don bright orange banners and parade down the street, a few with rifles, shouting slogans about defending the Indian motherland with bullets. The pageant women, on the other hand, suffer Botox injections and eating disorders, and the terrible feeling of hope being crushed because, after all, only one can be crowned Miss India. All these things come together bring to light the hardships and the possibilities that lie before these Indian women as their beloved country struggles to combine the traditional and the modern.

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