THE WORLD BEFORE HER: A look at two very different paths that women may take

Published: December 7, 2012

Film: “The World Before Her”; Featuring: Ruhl Singh, Prachi Trivedi; Director: Nisha Pahuja; Rating: ****

JAY STONE
POSTMEDIA NEWS

What does it mean to be a woman in India? That’s the question that hangs over the deceptively simple documentary The World Before Her, a look at two very different paths that women may take. Both seem devastating, but both are also sweeter than the alternative as presented by one young woman who says she respects her father because “he has given me birth, and knowing I am a girl child, he is letting me live.”

Canadian director Nisha Pahuja (Bollywood Bound) concentrates on two extremes of life. At one end is Ruhl Singh, a beautiful young woman who is one of 20 contestants in the Miss India beauty pageant. Self-possessed and confident, she understands the tawdry, sometimes lurid, aspects of the enterprise – the women have Botox injections to make their faces more “harmonious” and acidic compounds brushed on their skin to whiten it. They walk in bikinis and pose for sexy pictures for the newspapers. In one particularly devastating scene, the festival organizer has them bare only their legs so he won’t be distracted by the rest of their bodies: they walk a runway covered in white sacks with holes cut out for their eyes.

It’s all part of the Westernization of an old society, but it represents a rare chance for success and independence. A former Miss India winner, Pooja Chopra, is a particular success story: she was raised by a mother who walked out on her husband when he demanded the girl baby be killed (the film says 750,000 female fetuses a year are aborted, and an unknown number of girls are killed at birth.)

The other extreme is represented by a Durga Vahini camp, part of a right-wing movement of Hindu extremists who blame Muslims and Christians for diluting their religion. There, a teenager named Prachi Trivedi takes part in the exercises – learning martial arts, riflery, and the teaching that women are born to marry and have children. “Girls are educated but their heads are in the clouds,” a teacher tells them. “Erase these thoughts from your mind.”

Prachi is aggressively unglamorous – she thinks of herself as part boy and part girl – but her path to nationalism is also complicated. She is willing to die for “Mother India,” but her father demands that she follows a more traditional path. She is to marry and have children. “The obligation of girls is something God designed,” he says.

The World Before Her moves smoothly back and forth between the two training regimens – makeup and bikinis for one group, lessons in fundamentalist religion for the other – and Pahuja weaves in scenes of religious fighting throughout the country, as well as attacks by “Hindu Taliban” groups of men who beat women for being in bars, or for drinking alcohol.

It’s frightening, but the alternative hardly seems more palatable. “These girls have no honour,” says Prachi’s father as the family watches the Miss India pageant on TV: women answering silly questions with shallow answers, then walking around in their evening dresses, pouting seductively for a worldwide audience of a billion.

By the end of The World Before Her, we understand how high the stakes are, not just for Ruhl and the others, but for the girls in the audience who are fighting to abolish such images for a society that holds them in check. There are no easy answers here, just heartbreak.






Featured

Surrey-crime

Surrey Sikh temple hit-and-run still a mystery after two years

TOM ZYTARUK SURREY NOW SURREY — Surrey Mounties believe somebody must have seen something that can help investigators solve a hit-and-run crash that happened two…
Continue Reading »

Pakistan

Kids sweatshirts made in Pakistan and sold at Kroger, Fred Meyer stores in the U.S. recalled for choking hazard

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NEW YORK — Nearly 8,000 children’s hoodies are being recalled because of a possible choking risk. No injuries have been reported, but…
Continue Reading »

RELIGION-CRISIS

Buddhists hard-liners from Myanmar, Sri Lanka formalize agreement to protect religion

KRISHAN FRANCIS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Myanmar Buddhist monk and a Sri Lankan ultranationalist both known for campaigning against Muslims signed…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Surrey-crime

Surrey Sikh temple hit-and-run still a mystery after two years

TOM ZYTARUK SURREY NOW SURREY — Surrey Mounties believe somebody must have seen something that can help investigators solve a hit-and-run crash that happened two…
Continue Reading »

Crime-Vancouver-BC

Surrey Six murder trial: ‘But where is Christopher?’ With verdict expected Thursday, here’s what we know

KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI Nearly a year to the day the trial began, a judge is expected to hand down her verdict Thursday in the…
Continue Reading »

1PNG_0929N_CITY_INQUEST_218232808

Close the Vancouver airport immigration cells where Mexican woman hanged herself: lawyer

SUSAN LAZARUK VANCOUVER DESI Canada should close the immigration holding centre where a Mexican woman awaiting deportation hanged herself, and put up detainees in hotels,…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

body image-beauty-weight-control

Self-compassion leads to positive body image in women

IANS Toronto – Women who accept and tolerate their bodily imperfections appear to have a more positive body image despite their high body mass index…
Continue Reading »

British comedian John Oliver takes aim at Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's U.S. visit on his HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. YouTube/Screengrab.

British comedian John Oliver again covers Indian politics in HBO show, takes aim at Modi’s U.S. visit (w/ video)

VANCOUVER DESI British comedian John Oliver has covered Indian politics yet again on his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In this…
Continue Reading »

1INDIA_INTERNATIONAL_KITE_FESTIVAL_213745704

Last remaining family member of Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh dies in Toronto

IANS Chandigarh — The younger sister and last remaining blood relative of revolutionary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh has died in Canada, according to relatives in…
Continue Reading »

Komagata Maru

India honours 100-year anniversary of Komagata Maru with commemorative coins

IANS New Delhi — India on Monday released a set of special coins as part of a year-long centenary commemoration of the 1914 Komagata Maru…
Continue Reading »

Sandy Sidhu main.jpg

Nanaimo’s Sandy Sidhu to appear in film at VIFF, but the actress is still waiting for her big break

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI It took years for Nanaimo’s Sandy Sidhu to admit that she was an aspiring actress. Enrolled at UBC for cell biology…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Bollywood sex

Indian court blocks 72 websites from streaming Bollywood movie ‘Bang Bang’

IANS New Delhi – The Delhi High Court Tuesday directed various internet and telecom service providers to block access to 72 websites hosting the yet-to-be…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood

Fawad Khan: I like the idea of virgin romance

SUBHASH K. JHA IANS  Mumbai – His debut Bollywood film “Khubsoorat” features quite a few fudged kissing scenes and Fawad Khan, the Hindi film industry’s…
Continue Reading »

Sushmita Sen (L) and Hrithik Roshan (R) will be featured int he upcoming Mytra Fashion Weekend in Mumbai. Getty Images.

Sushmita Sen, Hrithik Roshan to glam up Mumbai’s Myntra Fashion Weekend

IANS Mumbai  – Former beauty queen and actress Sushmita Sen is set to scorch the ramp as showstopper on the opening day of fashion, beauty…
Continue Reading »