Director Nisha Pahuja brings her audience into the lives of young Indian women affected by Westernization in India in her award winning documentary “The World Before Her.” The film screening, sponsored by the Hindu Student Union (HSU), presents two contrasting sides of the nation’s story: the lives of girls at a Hindu extremist camp and those of young women competing in the 2011 Miss India pageant.
“One of the things that the film features is Hindu fundamentalist, or Hindu extremist, camps for girls. That is where Hinduism plays in. Sometimes in India, when Hindi girls are trying to figure out what is right or wrong, their religion drives those decisions,” said Meera Bhan ’14, Co-Head of the Hindu Student Union (HSU).
“I think [the film] is really relevant, especially now, because of the talks that have been going on about gender issues on campus and beyond. This is a good way to step back and see the gender issues play out in India,” said Bhan.
A major aspect of “The World Before Her” is the effect of and range of responses to Westernization in India. For some people, Westernization corrupts India’s cultures, yet for others, Westernization is beneficial to their culture and religion.
> For some people, Westernization corrupts India’s cultures, yet for others, Westernization is beneficial to their culture and religion.
In the film, the beauty pageant contestants and their families embrace Westernization and change, while preserving their own cultures and identities. Meanwhile, the young girls becoming educated in the camps are taught, both in their homes and in the camps, that Westernization has a negative effect on Mother India and Hinduism.
“It was good to see two different sides of [families’ responses to Westernization] and to understand two different perspectives of it, because it’s really easy to have your own opinions. I’m torn between the two because I don’t think that training children with guns is the answer, but I also don’t think beauty pageants are the best way to express equality for women,” said Lizzie McGonagle ’16, an audience member.
“I thought it was a great movie. My family actually just moved to Mumbai, the city where most of it took place. It was a real eye-opener into the two worlds that exist in India and the divide that they create and just how so much needs to be done in India. To be frank, it saddens me what the condition and the current place of a girl in India is,” said Akhil Rajan ’17.
Bhan and Soha Sanchowarala ’14, Co-Heads of HSU, hoped that “The World Before Her” helped promote continued on-campus discussion of gender roles, religious issues and how they both affect education.
The film was named Best Documentary at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.