The Selective World of ‘The World Before Her’

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Nargis Dutt once accused Satyajit Ray of selling Indian poverty to the West. And every Bengali, his nephew and neighbor got up in protest. How could a film actress question the motives of the great Ray?
Thousands of Indians have, since, done what Nargis suspected Ray of doing – damning the image of India.
Canada based Nishi Pahuja is one of them and The World Before Her is one such documentary.
I am glad that showing what is not a regular film has become possible and three cheers to Anurag Kashyap for picking it up, supporting it and presenting it. He even risked annoying The Times of India which runs the beauty pageant in India. This shows a healthy trend in Indian film market.
But the film is something else again.
You have camera getting into the Durga Vahini and probing the mindset of the right wing fanatics. You find yourself embarrassed to belong to the same religious group. But not surprised. Hindus in India, like the Muslims, the Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and others are a blend of different segments and thoughts.
Talking to two and half Hindus belonging to Durga Vahini, trapping the Hindu father into saying embarrassing things (“She is my daughter. I have absolute right over her life.” “I took up a hot rod and burnt her foot as she had lied. Beti dikhaao vo nishaan.” “She will have to get married. How can she not marry?”) and daughter (“He has a right to beat me. He produced me! They kill the girl at the time of birth in a traditional family but I am grateful that I was allowed to live.” “Mahatma Gandhi‘s non-violence emasculated Hindus.”) is selective reporting on the sly.
Inserted statements like ‘Some believe that Hindu terrorism is more dangerous than Islamic terrorism.’ along with news-clippings of two terrorist activities of Durga Vahini, mention of stray instances of moral policing (not by Durga Vahini but by another rather unimportant Hindu right wing group Ram Sena), shots of riots in Gujarat and mixing them with unconfirmed figures of the killings of daughters and girl children is clearly biased. Biased because of the choice. Nisha Pahuja doesn’t take the mindset of Muslims in India, doesn’t take her camera to Madrasas or the camps of Islamic terrorists. She goes for the soft target – Hindu right wing.
This traditional Hindu mindset is juxtaposed with the girls participating in beauty pageants. The desperate struggle of girls to make it big, to be selected ‘Miss India’, the training, cosmetic surgery, forcing the insecure girls to get botox injections and dermal fillers, use of creams and chemicals to make them fairer and again an effort to show how India treats the girl child form the content of this Paschim against the Purab of Durga Vahini.
My quarrel is with her approach.
If the theme is to place modern Indian woman against the Indian woman of another, older era the women in Durga Vahini could have been excluded. They don’t fit the bill. The mothers of the candidates as the contrast between the two might have been a better choice.
If the idea was to examine the mindset of the orthodox Hindus – this minority of semi-educated Hindu fanatics – should have been contrasted with the mindset of the orthodox Muslims in India.
The only connect between the two world is that Durga Vahini was against India hosting the pageants and forced ABCL to cancel it and incur a loss of over 20 crore.
In fact, it was not Durga Vahini but Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha’s (KRRS) that was responsible for the violent protests against the pageants managed by ABCL.
It is easy to ask leading questions with a bogus empathy to open the ignorant members of the vahini and then delete them is making a documentary with an agenda.
Nisha has an eye for catching the right moment, right expressions and making every frame say much more than in an average documentary. I see a great documentary filmmaker in her if she be bold, ventures into unexplored territories without fear. Camera is your ticket to the world the others aren’t allowed to see. Use it, honestly and bravely.

*****

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