POLITICAL SCIENCE TO MAm BY VARSHA BHOOTRA PG-1 ABOUT MOVIE The world before her is a provocative film of dreams and freedom of an Indian women. We examine two girls with a different paths but a common goal that is empowerment. EMPOWERMENT conveys a wide range of interpretations one of them being power over oneself. This fascinating portrait of two women reveals a truth of Indian culture and startles a difference between urban and rural, jeans and saris create a conflict between old tradition and modernity. In focusing on two particularly young and fascinate women--one a militant Hindu nationalist, the other a contestant for Miss India. Both Prachi and Ruhi manifest a will for female empowerment but both have different views on how this is achieved. Prachi desires the way to achieve empowerment is through her mind and strength; she still confined with Indian tradition whereas Ruhi believes in female empowerment by exposing her beauty in a non-conservative way and seeks in fame and liberty from a typical Indian culture. WESTERN CULTURE v/s INDIAN CULTURE Across India, there are 20 young women gathered in the Mumbai to compete in the Miss India pageant. They had been selected from thousands of aspiring beauty queens with lots of dreams and hopes, people in a country gone mad for beauty contests. Whatever the difficulties, winning the title means fame, name, a fast-forward 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 articulation, gaits and facial expressions and help them to fit in “international beauty contests”. Among the finalists one of them is Ruhi Singh, from the famous “pink city” Jaipur in northern India. The World before Her reveals Ruhi to be anything but a victim of the beauty boot camp that represents opportunity. 'You earn for yourself, you gain respect," .Ruhi has dreams and aspirations of equality, financial independence, 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 this fame, name, and title 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. There’s no question the Miss India contest is vapid, exploitative and degrading; at one point, organizer Marc Robinson, in order to better judge the shapeliness of his contestants’ legs, has them parade up and down the runway covered in linen sacks, with only their limbs exposed ) .This brought divisions to the forefront, thousands of people protested. The protests were about globalisation and westernisation of India and the threat to Indian culture. Today in India there are hundreds or more beauty pageants. Is this a nation realising it cannot stop a global effect? All Ruhi wants is to be noticed and a chance of a different life. That life comes at a price of being told how to talk, walk, and smile and various skin lightening treatments, she does not win the crown of Miss India and is bitterly disappointed. Ruhi goes home feeling rejected and talks of one day marrying and having a family. Ruhi has been through the process of ‘manufactured polishing of an Indian woman’ has it given her more agency in her life? Perhaps not if she wants to go back to the traditional life of marry and have children. Was being assertive, and desirable only temporary whilst she was part of the beauty pageant? Prachi is an instructor at Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad. She has long been nurtured in its religion-stoked dogma. The parallel stories follow a linear, logical structure towards a logical end, not necessarily with a neat deductible conclusion. The outrage of the documentarian is quiet. What she makes us see and hear is deserving of outrage, of course: teenage beauty-pageant contestants undergoing Botox pricks under their lips or covered from head to torso and made to walk on a beachside ramp just so their legs can be judged: the chilling patriarchal bombast of Prachi’s father, who wants her to be a wife and mother to be complete; who hits physically to teach her lessons in his brand of truth and discipline; the revelation that Miss India 2009 escaped female infanticide because of her mother’s will. We never see and barely hear the film-maker in the course of the film, except for some softly voiced, pointed questions. The film-maker’s access to the lives of both women is a feat. As it is with journalism, what she finally does with that access is partly in the realm of ethics. The lack of overt editorializing and absence of voices and opinions from outside the worlds Ruhi, Prachi and their friends, competitors, sisters and families inhabit, lend the film false neutrality. False, because Pahuja knows her position on the Durga Vahini and the Miss India Contest—both disturb her deeply. Are Prachi and Ruhi more alike than they are different then? Yes, they are. We see Ruhi’s parents watching their daughter in the televised Miss India contest in their sparse bedroom. We see Prachi and her parents watching the same contest with disgust. We get glimpses of the minds of small girls at a Durga Vahini camp, copying up to the militant Hindu rhetoric. We see Prachi snap, just short of tears, in extreme close-ups. Pahuja possibly retained what she got from her subjects towards the end, after a period of acclimatizing them to the camera and her. Her editor David Kazala has pieced the parallel stories together superbly, shaping a narrative that builds up block by block to the happily ambivalent climax. Towards the end, the film almost becomes entertaining. It is obvious Pahuja is slightly more embracing of the aspiring beauty queens than she is one of the Durgas. There is more backstory to Ruhi. She approaches the dolled-up girls with humour—there’s even a hint of black humour in the question-answer round of the contest— and sympathy. But even when we see Prachi at her home, seemingly comfortable in front of Pahuja’s camera, being herself, she is the film’s striking Other. We know nothing about the very young girls we meet at Prachi’s gruelling physical training labs. Why, despite all the work, are they full of happy smiles? Like Ruhi’s Miss India contest, is a Durga Vahini camp their escape? Has that escape also trapped them? Pahuja does not quite get comfortable with their fractured and colonized minds. Unlike Ruhi, Prachi Trivedi does not embrace the influence of ‘western culture’; she sees it as a threat to the Indian way of life and culture. As a youth leader for Durga Vahini it is her job to ready the girls with physical combat training, rhetoric on the Hindu religion, give the girls strength and perseverance. Malaben Rawal the President of the organisation says the girls begin the process of “transformation into tigers”. According to the Director of the film, Pahuja said: the film aims ‘to show the complexity, not answer the complexity’ of the Durga Vahini movement. In one scene of the documentary the girls are marching in the streets chanting: ‘Mark your foreheads with blood and welcome your enemy with bullets.’ According to Prachi and her father Hemant ji, Christians, Muslims and globalisation are the enemy of the Hindu people. Prachi appears to be a confident woman and relishes her role as a camp leader, but she also reveals to Pahuja that her father beats her and she accepts it because ‘she is a girl’ and lucky to have been born. As per director: ‘the film succeeds in showing the camp’s ironic function as a safe house for young minds and bodies at war with gender expectations – a space in which oppressive domestic and gender protocols are suspended.’ The camp also tells recruits that too much education is a bad thing, women should conform to their ‘natural weakness’ and be a Hindu women of example from 5000 years age. This movement justifies its actions because of outside influences like globalisation and other religions. According to Kinnvall: ‘In terms of fundamentalism, globalisation often becomes associated with deteriorated conditions for the ordinary person.’ She continues to argue: ‘these feelings of ‘anti-western’ and ‘anti-elite’ are often used by fundamentalist forces to mobilise those who feel left out.’ Kinnvall states that movements like the Hindutva movement use similar ideas of discontentment not against the elite but ‘in relation to a significant ‘other’ – Muslims who are singled out as the cause of distress.’ Prachi uses the globalisation argument as a vehicle of proof to rally against ‘other’ in this case western ideals and lifestyle and religions impeding Indian culture. Kinnvall suggests there is ‘a notion of indigenous culture being pure, compassionate and tolerant as opposed to the West being aggressive, rational and impersonal.’ She also suggests that ‘Hindutva politics has to build on a pan-Indian hegemonic identity to override localised identities, if it is to appeal to new middle classes.’ This discourse requires a romanticism and glorification of India’s past to those displaced by modernisation. Conclusion I am not a fan of documentaries but this one just pulled me towards itself. Written and directed by Nisha Pahuja, the film explores the complex and conflicting environment for young girls in India by profiling two young women participating in two very different types of training camp —beauty contest by Ruhi Singh, and a militant Hindu nationalist Prachi Trivedi with the Durga Vahini camp. This film draws contrast between two very different worlds. It also establishes a parallel connection of how the girls feel controlled by the system they love. On one hand, it's Prachi Trivedi who is so passionate about the Hindu culture and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that she wouldn't mind killing Muslims and Christians if they pose danger to Hinduism. She wants to become a priestess (sadhvi) and spend her life working for the VHP. We also get to know her adorable (this is the most sarcastic I've ever been) father who says that it is the dharma (the eternal duty) of every girl to get married and bear children. A woman is not a woman until she gives birth to a children, says a man. Prachi has attended the Durga Vahini camps since a very young age and she now believes in the system by heart. She teaches the same beliefs to other little girls and we see how tomorrow's young women are taught firing rifles and swear to kill Muslims and Christians if need be. They keep repeating this statement and that was the thing that appalled me the most. Is that what we are teaching our kids? Is this what Hinduism teaches us? They are being taught that they should get married after 18 because it's difficult to "tame" girls who are older than twenty five years. They brainwash little girls into believing how Priyanka Chopra and other models/actresses are bad and why you shouldn't want to be like them. The only good thing that I thought about this boot camp is the fact that they were given self-defence training which is important for every girl. Now there is a totally different world of the nineteen Miss India 2011 contestants, where we focus on Ruhi Singh who is ambitious like all the rest and wants to win the crown. We get to see all the glamour sprinkled horrors they have to go through, some dreams and some nightmares. We meet Miss India 2009 winner Pooja Chopra and her mother who tell us how difficult it was for her as a single mother to raise her daughter on her own because the father wanted to kill the girl child. Never have I ever cried while watching a film but the moment when her mother was telling about all her struggles was too overwhelming. All the Miss India contestants are 18-25 year old girls who want to wear the jewelled crown and be known as the Miss India. They know what is expected of them and they are ready to do it all, for the sake of the crown and their career. They are what we can probably call today's empowered women who make their own decisions and achieve what they want they want to. That illusion is shattered when one of them doesn't want to get Botox treatment done on her face because it's uneven but has to. That illusion is shattered when they are reduced to a pair of legs wearing a white cloak because the photographer loves women's legs. That illusion is shattered when we see the insecurity present in everyone's minds. The film takes turns to plunge us into the horrifying realities of both of these worlds and we are forced to connect them when we hear a leftover hymn chanting while watching sexy women walk on ramp. It's infuriating to see the Durga Vahini trainer Prachi's father commenting on how he hates women who don't respect culture, who wear skimpy clothes whilst sitting half naked himself, watching the live telecast of the Miss India pageant. It's not just this man but I have personally seen such people, some even my relatives, who cringe when they see women wearing short clothes, not marrying early, pursuing their career or pretty much anything that involves freedom. The viewer is torn between these two ends of the spectrum and the plethora of questions that arise. What is the way out? Is there a way out?