Friday, December 7, 2012

The World Before Her

Traditionalism collides with modernity in The World Before Her, a provocative study of Hindu extremists and beauty pageants in India from documentary filmmaker Nisha Pahuja. Weaving the two radically opposed worlds together produces unexpected—and sometimes even amusing—results. Who would expect the martial drills of the young extremist girls to pale in comparison to the rigorous training regimen of the budding pageant queens? (Skin whitening is not uncommon, and botox is apparently a necessity for the girls, even at the tender age of 19.) Aside from these uncomfortable contrasts, Pahuja also benefits greatly from the candour of her subjects, one of who frankly discusses branding his daughter Prachi’s foot for lying about doing her homework. Prachi remains blasé about the abuse, preferring to channel her rage into the task of teaching young girls to handle rifles and chant violent nationalist slogans. By comparison, the dehumanization of the pageant world is markedly less violent, but both realms offer limited opportunities to Indian women. During the pageant, the ominous words “Pantaloons Femina” hang over the stage—a quiet reminder of how these modern women are no less branded than their fundamentalist counterparts.

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