(This has first appeared in Tellychakkar.com.http://www.tellychakkar.com/movie/movie-news/the-world-her-the-brainwashing-of-the-indian-woman-321)
In Aurangabad, a proud father who spends most of his time performing pujas, bare torsoed and clad in bright pink dhoti, calls his daughter ‘hamara product’ who ‘has to be perfect’. Perfect here is all about being a staunch “Hindu’ who can take up a gun and kill in defense of her religion if required. The daughter, Prachi Trivedi chokes on tears of gratitude because he has not killed his girl child like thousands do. He has only burnt her foot with an iron rod, once as a child to teach her a lesson in being truthful. Today she proudly trains young girls at the Durga Vahini camp, the women’s wing of a Hindu nationalist organization in India- the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Prachi’s father is not the only ‘perfect product’ maker. In more posh surroundings of a five star hotel in the city of dreams, Mumbai, Sabira Merchant, a diction trainer, says with conviction that Miss India training camp is like a beauty “factory that makes girls into the perfect modern Indian woman.” Another authoritarian figure bends over a young girl and declares the pretty face to be imperfect and non symmetrical. Dr Jamuna Pai, dermatologist, towers over her, pokes at her chin with a Botox injection. When the girl protests, the skin expert hired by the Miss India pageant organisers, declares with disgusting authority that she will inject the Botox even if “I have to strap you down”. We soon see a blurred face being administered the painful treatment. All because these girls have been told by the beauty business and competitions across the world that one crown will change their lives. As Ruhi Singh, one of the contestants, puts it, her parents will be proud and not feel she is a “waste”. For her winning the contest is her ticket to freedom.
Canadian filmmaker, Nisha Pahuja’s documentary The World Before Her addresses all this and more by following two women from different worlds. One at a Miss India boot camp that follows the western ‘modern’ outlook. Another at a Durga Vahini training camp that is not only anti western culture but also anti Christian and anti Muslim. On the surface, these are two Indias. Only to reveal they are just mirrors.
Ruhi Singh from Jaipur, is a simple pretty girl who tries her luck at becoming Miss India to change her fortunes. Prachi is a more tomboyish girl in Aurangabad who has attended 42 Durga Vahini camps and says she only lives for “Hinduism”.
While tracking the journeys these two young women take in the parallel worlds, the film also showcases a former Miss India winner, Pooja Chopra. We see in a moving interview by her mother how her decision not to abort Pooja at the cost of breaking her marriage, has eventually given birth to a successful and beautiful role model like her. Perhaps the only story that shows a beauty pageant with an upside to it. The rest of the track covering the contestants’ preparation shows Sabira Merchant lecturing the girls and revealing how she advises them to go with the ‘new world’ instead of the old because that’s the only way to keep up with the times. In less kinder coverage, we see a woman guiding a girl’s body posture and asks if hurts. The girl says ‘yes’ and the mentor shoot back, “it looks fab.” Another one has a male coach telling the girls to stand with “boobs on, butts out”. The lack of dignity of it all does make one of them, Ankita Shorey, question, “at what cost?”
Treading slowly and surely into the two seemingly opposite worlds, the film does a hard hitting, thought provoking job of questioning what is modern, what is traditional and what is indeed culture. At one point, it even juxtaposes one world against the other and shows how Prachi reacts to the beauty pageants and the so called western culture.
The film has deservedly won the best documentary feature at the Tribeca film festival 2012.You are left with disturbing visuals of young girls in villages, tying orange dupattas around the waist, tucking in a knife, putting tikkas on their foreheads like little warriors, holding up a gun or a sword and chanting patriotic or religious sentiments.
In the other not so different world, the camera follows girls being paraded in bikinis and yards of cloth over their heads, so that just their legs are seen and judged, irrespective of discomfort or suffocation.
The glaring and chilling unspoken truth that speaks volumes through these visuals is that each of the girls in both the worlds, believes that she is doing it out of her own choice. None is aware of the actual brainwashing by the unseen larger and scarier forces of politics and commerce. All in the name of religion and beauty.
And if the visuals are not enough, these words that shape so many young lives, continue to haunt:
“Girls should be married by 18. By the time they are 25, they become so strong willed, you cannot tame them.” Aparna Ramteerthkar, social activist.
“My mom walked over my father because he didn’t want a second girl child. I was that second girl child.” Pooja Chopra, Miss india, 2009.
“He (father) let me live when others kill their daughters.”Prachi Trivedi.
“I hate Gandhi.” Prachi Trivedi.
The World Before Her is a documentary that deserves to be a blockbuster and seen by each of you. Because it’s your world. Called India.