The vivid portrayal of a culture clash between beauty pageantry and Hindu religious extremism — that’s the subject of a new film, The World Before Her, directed by Toronto-based emerging talent Nisha Pahuja.
The film will have its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs May 2, at 7pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre.
Just prior to Hot Docs, Toronto’s Storyline Entertainment — the producer of the film — has the distinction of opening the World Documentary Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival Thursday, April 19, which will be the film’s world premiere.
The World Before Her contrasts the wide-eyed ambitions of 20 hand-picked contestants determined to win the Miss India pageant, and the behind-the-scenes reality of Hindu fundamentalist camps for young girls that are run by the women’s wing of a militant movement.
“This film has been my life for four very long years,” says Nisha Pahuja, “and I’m so proud to be finally showing it to the world.
“As Toronto is my home, I couldn’t be more honoured to have the Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs,” she adds.
“We worked hard to make this film,” says Storyline Entertainment’s Executive Producer Ed Barreveld, “and there’s nothing better than premiering our film in our home town. ”
The film sees 20 young women from across India arrive in Bombay for a month-long beauty boot camp, where winning the coveted title would mean instant stardom, a lucrative career path, and freedom from the constraints of a patriarchal society. It is the ultimate glamour event in a country that has gone mad for beauty contests.
But as its popularity has exploded, so have the protests rejecting it as decadent.
As the pageant unfolds, director Nisha Pahuja travels to another corner of India to visit an annual camp for young girls run by the Durgha Vahini, the women’s wing of a militant fundamentalist movement. Through lectures and physical combat training, the girls learn what it means to be “good” Hindu women and how to fight corrupting outside influences by any means necessary.
This is the first time that a film crew has been able to enter these camps.
The contrast between the vehement determination of the pageant contestants to obtain a title that could change their lives forever, and the passionate desire of the camp leaders to fight and even die for their beliefs, is at times overpowering.
The film seeks to balance both these perspectives through a provocative portrait of the world’s largest democracy at a critical transitional moment.
The World Before Her is distributed in Canada by Kinosmith Inc, an independent Canadian film distribution and marketing company founded in February 2007 by distribution veteran Robin Smith.
With a mandate to bring critically-acclaimed Canadian and international films to audiences across the country, the company has distributed over 150 feature films in the last five years as well as provided marketing advice to completed films and productions in development.
Upcoming theatrical releases include The Guantanamo Trap, China Heavyweight, Replicas (featuring Selma Blair), Girl Model, Sound It Out, and The Story of Film: An Odyssey.