Prachi Trivedi and Ruhi Singh embark upon a journey to find an identity for themselves in the city of dreams, Mumbai. On the face of it, they share nothing in common but both remain trapped in a patriarchal society. Ruhi is a Miss India pageant aspirant and Prachi is an inheritor of a belief system which thinks that aggressive Hindutva can set India on the path to progress.
‘The World before Her’ beautifully captures the vibrant yet antagonized sections of Indian society. Directed by Nisha Pahuja, the documentary depicts two schools of thought, the fundamentalists and the modernists. As part of the ongoing film screenings at Women’s World Congress (WWC) 2014, University of Hyderabad (UoH), the Canadian documentary made a polarizing effect on the audience’s mind.
Uma Magal, a Hyderabad based filmmaker and former teacher at UoH introduced the film. Giving a critical analysis of the film, she raised her reservations about the film. She admitted that the film did not provide an identity to Prachi and Ruhi which they strived for.
According to Uma Magal, “The two schools of thought are strangely unconventional in their own ways. The first school considers itself traditional and the second stands for modernity but both are forms of control”. She said that she admired the filmmaking of the director. It came across as a film that could be sold easily but a nuanced version was still required, she added.
The documentary sheds light on different perceptions pertaining to women. Beauty contest focuses on bodily aspects whereas Durga Shakti Vahini empowers women only to subjugate them later. In a way, none of the groups liberate women from patriarchal shackles. The contestants of Miss India pageant consider themselves a part of modern society. However, they give in to the demands of their male counterparts. They show off their legs unwillingly for the contest.
A distorted idea of Hinduism as religion is depicted in the film. Prachi, her Father and the Durga Shakti Vahini camp members have their own understanding of Hinduism. Run by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group, the members of camp uphold slogans like “If you ask for milk and rice, we will give you pudding. But if you ask Kashmir, we will slit your throats”.
The filmmaker captured the propaganda in a straight forward manner so there is no complexity involved. The film, however, did not provide a solution. The two different worlds are equally revulsive. Hence, the film left the audience with an open-ended conclusion.
-Saumya Painuli, MA Communication