Ruhi and Prachi Are Both Ambitious Young Women: One Hopes to Win the Miss India Beauty Pageant; The Other Leads a Fundamentalist Hindu Camp for Girls
Running Time: 56:46
Writer/Director: Nisha Pahuja
Producers: Ed Barreveld, Cornelia Principe, Nisha Pahuja
Executive Producers: Ed Barreveld, Andy Cohen, Nisha Pahuja, Mike Chamberlain
Editor: David Kazala
Directors of Photography: Mrinal Desai, Derek Rogers
Original Music: Ken Myhr
“Riveting.” —Stephen Holden, The New York Times
The World Before Her, A Co-presentation With the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), is a fascinating portrait of two women and two Indias and reveals a world of startling contrasts between urban and rural, jeans and saris, consumer culture and poverty, where rapid economic development fuels a sharpening conflict between tradition and modernity–especially when it touches on women and religion. In focusing on two particularly thoughtful young women–one a militant Hindu nationalist, the other a contestant for Miss India–The World Before Her provides a timely account of a multi-faceted, often confusing clash over values and the future of the world’s largest democracy.
Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her, winner of the World Documentary Award at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on the award-winning PBS documentary series POV (Point of View). The World Before Her is a production of Storyline Entertainment in association with ZDF, ARTE, Impact Partners, Knowledge and TVO.
In 2011, 20 young women from across India gathered in a modern Bombay hotel to compete in the Miss India pageant. They had been picked from thousands of aspiring beauty queens to vie for a much-coveted crown in a country lately gone mad for beauty contests, even as the pageants have also elicited a conservative backlash.
Whatever the controversies, winning the title means instant stardom, a lucrative career path and freedom from the constraints of a patriarchal society. The 20 finalists will spend 30 days before the pageant going through a “beauty boot camp” to optimize their diction, gaits and facial expressions and help them conform to “international” standards of beauty.
Among the finalists is Ruhi Singh, from the “famous pink city” of Jaipur in northern India. The World Before Her reveals Ruhi to be anything but a dewy-eyed victim of the beauty boot camp or of pageants in general. A veteran of such contests, she submits to the beauty regime, including skin lightening, with a determination to win. Her motives certainly include making her supportive parents proud and earning lots of money. But what the crown, pride and money ultimately mean to Ruhi is this: “I think of myself as a very modern young girl and I want freedom.” For women in Ruhi’s world, a beauty pageant is a road to liberation.
Little more than 200 miles away from Bombay, in the city of Aurangabad, thousands of girls attend annual camps run by Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the largest Hindu nationalist group in India. Continue reading