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I had almost no desire to see Nisha Pahuja's documentary feature "The World Before Her." Contemplating the role of women in modern India is simply not something that I've given much thought to, it's not something that had a direct bearing on my existence. But a truly effective documentary has the ability and power to open your eyes and surprise you. And what I saw here frightened me, saddened me, enraged me, and made me care. Truly, I thought this was a terrific film and an important one. Pahuja looks at two extremes of Indian womanhood. One of her subjects is the contestants of the national beauty competition for Miss India. The other is a girl's school for Hindu fundamentalists. One represents the old ideals, one is more influenced by the West. As India evolves, there are divergent belief systems that threaten to tear the country apart. And "The World Before Her" is extremely effective at examining this dichotomy.

The beginning of the film doesn't offer a lot of commentary, it allows the documentary participants to speak for themselves. As the beauty contestants readied themselves for the pageant, I thought many of the procedures and practices were demeaning and offensive. Objectified and marginalized, the whole process was inherently distasteful to me. On the other hand, the fundamentalist camp seemed to be fostering self awareness, strength and confidence in its students. It really seemed to be setting the girls up for success. As things progressed, however, and I took a closer look, my feelings completely changed. The fundamentalists turned out to be extremists that preached violence (and even murder) to support the traditional values of the country. And in the pageant, several of the contestants recognized the unpleasantness of the contest but were simply using it as a platform for a better life. I had become caught up in my own prejudices and the film knocked me for a loop.

One of the biggest hurdles to understand is that the fundamentalist women are actively fighting for a system that oppresses them. The primary contributor to this section is a young woman who doesn't want to get married and have kids, she wants to dedicate her life to the cause. But it is this exact same cause that will force her to marry and bear children! We spend considerable time in both extremes, the televised pageant is juxtaposed with the camp's graduation ceremony. It's easy to love a documentary or be affected by it simply due to its subject matter. And this film does strike an emotional chord. Scenes of random violence and unsettling statistics have lingered with me. But I don't want to dismiss "The World Before Her" in those terms. Yes, the subject matter is provocative. But more than that, this is a finely made film, balanced with precision. Definitely a must see, the experience of Pahuja's film ended up having a great impact on me and I've thought of it often since viewing it. KGHarris, 8/13.
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I had almost no desire to see Nisha Pahuja's documentary feature "The World Before Her." Contemplating the role of women in modern India is simply not something that I've given much thought to, it's not something that had a direct bearing on my existence. But a truly effective documentary has the ability and power to open your eyes and surprise you. And what I saw here frightened me, saddened me, enraged me, and made me care. Truly, I thought this was a terrific film and an important one. Pahuja looks at two extremes of Indian womanhood. One of her subjects is the contestants of the national beauty competition for Miss India. The other is a girl's school for Hindu fundamentalists. One represents the old ideals, one is more influenced by the West. As India evolves, there are divergent belief systems that threaten to tear the country apart. And "The World Before Her" is extremely effective at examining this dichotomy.

The beginning of the film doesn't offer a lot of commentary, it allows the documentary participants to speak for themselves. As the beauty contestants readied themselves for the pageant, I thought many of the procedures and practices were demeaning and offensive. Objectified and marginalized, the whole process was inherently distasteful to me. On the other hand, the fundamentalist camp seemed to be fostering self awareness, strength and confidence in its students. It really seemed to be setting the girls up for success. As things progressed, however, and I took a closer look, my feelings completely changed. The fundamentalists turned out to be extremists that preached violence (and even murder) to support the traditional values of the country. And in the pageant, several of the contestants recognized the unpleasantness of the contest but were simply using it as a platform for a better life. I had become caught up in my own prejudices and the film knocked me for a loop.

One of the biggest hurdles to understand is that the fundamentalist women are actively fighting for a system that oppresses them. The primary contributor to this section is a young woman who doesn't want to get married and have kids, she wants to dedicate her life to the cause. But it is this exact same cause that will force her to marry and bear children! We spend considerable time in both extremes, the televised pageant is juxtaposed with the camp's graduation ceremony. It's easy to love a documentary or be affected by it simply due to its subject matter. And this film does strike an emotional chord. Scenes of random violence and unsettling statistics have lingered with me. But I don't want to dismiss "The World Before Her" in those terms. Yes, the subject matter is provocative. But more than that, this is a finely made film, balanced with precision. Definitely a must see, the experience of Pahuja's film ended up having a great impact on me and I've thought of it often since viewing it. KGHarris, 8/13.
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on November 15, 2013
The 2012 documentary THE WORLD BEFORE HER covers two groups of women living what, at first, seems to be very different lives in the country of India. Females aged 12 to 25 attend a Hindu Nationalist training camp where they prepare for combat against invading forces and are taught to hate westerners, Muslims, and Christians. The other group comprises beauty pageant contestants vying for the title of Miss India. The young Hindu women learn they must marry and have children. The Miss India hopefuls see the exposure the contest provides as their best bet to move on to bigger and better things, which, I guess, leaves the young women of India not good-looking enough, at least by conventional standards, with less opportunity?

I'd like it if THE WORLD BEFORE HER caught up with Indian women who are part of neither group, but what his film offers is more than compelling enough viewing. While the Hindu Nationalist trainees and Miss India contestants have nothing in common on the surface, all are on track to a life centered on pleasing men.
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on May 16, 2014
I was expecting a documentary about beauty pageants in India, and boy did I get more than I expected. As someone who is not overly familiar with Indian culture, this documentary really touched on a ton of areas and challenges that Indian women are facing.

One of the contestants, Ruhi, was very clear that she was not competing in the pageant for the experience. Winning was the only thing that mattered. She saw it as one of the few options available for Indian women to take advantage of the same opportunities for success, money, etc. that men have. There was a huge difference implied between the parents of the beauty pageant girls and the camp girls. The parents of the girls in the pageant valued their daughters, and wanted them to be happy and successful. The pageant was really seen as a euphemism for people on both sides for change to Indian culture. The parents and girls of the pageant embraced change, and were excited by where they see the culture heading. The young lady that won the pageant actually stated as part of the competition that their mothers could learn from them to not give up their dreams, and they could accomplish more than had been possible in the past.

On the flip side, the father of the camp leader, Prachi, seemed to find little value in his daughter. He made it clear that he did not care what she thought or wanted, she would do certain things as they were her duty. One of the most fascinating scenes in this documentary was when Prachi was asked about being angry with her father. She acknowledged it, but then blew it off because "he knew I was a girl, and he still let me live." I wonder if Prachi would have been a lesbian in another culture. She was adamant that she did not want to be married or have children (although her father vowed she WOULD do both). She said that she is not like other girls, and was raised like a boy and girl and does not fit in with either. She mentioned just wanting to be "how she is" several times throughout the documentary, and I would have liked a little more insight into what that meant to her. No doubt that she absolutely did not want to live the life prescribed for her by the lifestyle she was fighting so hard to protect.

It is sad for me as a Westerner to know that there are women who feel like beauty pageants are one of the best ways to fulfill their potential given constraints in their society. The scenes at the camp were just disturbing, and I found little about "the movement" redeeming. The camps have been likened to terrorist training, and these young girls were being taught that they should be willing to resort to violence to protect their superior way of life. They were being taught intolerance of Christians, Muslims, and Westerners, and also that they have no options in life outside of a predetermined role. It's great that they felt powerful and strong while attending the camp, but ultimately, it just seemed like brain washing with a side of military training.

I agree with the reviewer that would have liked to have seen some perspectives in the middle just to balance it out.
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"The World Before Her" (2012 release from India; 90 min.) is a documentary focusing on two young women in India who are finding their way in life. As the movie opens, we get to meet Ruhi, a 19 yr. old who is in the final group of 20 women competing for the title of Miss India 2011. She is just starting a beauty contest boot camp that will run for 30 days leading up to the pageant itself. Next we get to meet Prachi, a 24 yr. old who is a camp leader at Durga Vahini, a Hindu nationalistic training camp for women between the ages of 15 and 23. We also get to know the respective families.

Couple of comments: first and foremost, kudos to director Nisha Pahuja for bringing us these insights into Indian society, it was an eye-opener for me (I've never been in to India). Second, beware, the documentary contains some disturbing footage of Hindu extremists brutally attacking women for the heinous crime of being seen with a man, or for being in a bar, or for simply being a woman. There is also some fairly shocking footage of the beauty pageant contestants getting botox injections and skin whitening treatments. Third, one can only imagine the pressure that weighs on girls and women in India. At one point Ruhi's mother describes how disappointed and let down she felt when giving birth and being told it was another girl, as in Indian society girls and women are third rate at best (behind men and cows, really). We should all be thankful for living in a country like the US where, compared to India, women are treated and live like queens.

I saw this movie at the 2014 International Women's Day festival held by the Cincinnati World Cinema, and the screening was PACKED I am happy to report. "The World Before Her" raises a lot of poignant questions, and is worth checking out, be it in the theater, on DVD or on Amazon Instant Video. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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on September 16, 2013
The world before her is a great view of two of the many extreme points of view that co-exist in India today. Pooja documents the situations with great sensitivity and does not over-dramatize either of them. Loved the movie.
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on June 12, 2014
Very nice movie. Loved the parallels drawn between the protagonists. Direction is superb and it seems the research is done properly
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on November 1, 2013
this was very interesting. I never knew the Hindu camps existed. It is worth the time and the money to see this.
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on September 10, 2014
Worth watching... Makes you think about the progress women have and have not made in India.
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on July 23, 2014
Too good a movie to know india of today irrespective of the gender.
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