Indo-Canadian director Nisha Pahuja documents two contrasting worlds, two conflicting Indias, two diverging ideologies through the eyes of primarily two subjects - Prachi Trivedi, a 20-year old instructor at the Durga Vahini camp, (the women's wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an Indian right-wing nationalist outfit propagating the Hindutva ideology) and Ruhi Singh, a Jaipur-based, 19-year old Miss India aspirant.
The film lets you into their worlds through first-person narratives and base your opinions even as they sway and swerve until it becomes hard to conclude about the two in the same light you set out with. Every subsequent scene is a revelation, adding a new layer to the characters.
There seem no similarities between the two at the outset but as you get to know them closer, you figure both crave one thing - freedom. To be what they choose to be, to live the way they desire to. Not how the world expects them to be.
Even as the film makes you look at the brighter side of the modelling world (like how the beauty industry offers equal platform to men and women) and the darker side of Prachi's world at the start, it scrapes their contrarian sides eventually - exposing the hypocrisies of our society and questioning your judgments about the two girls.
While every scene is memorable and adds value, one that is heartbreaking and deeply disturbing is of the mother of one of the contestants (Pooja Chopra) talking about her broken marriage. Of why she had to walk out of it. I remember reading her story a few years back but hearing it again stirred me to the core.
I don't know why it took me this long to see The World Before Her. I would strongly recommend anyone who still hasn't, to watch it. But more importantly, and as Nisha Pahuja points out in this lovely interview (below) with TBIP, I wish the documentary, beyond just being seen, can actually shake people, particularly men, out of their beliefs and force them to rethink the roles and the rules of our society. "The only way things are going to move forward for women in this country is if men start to understand patriarchy in two ways: one, as a construct that limits them because it gives them a particular role to play and so it limits their freedom, their ability to know who they really are. Two, they need to question the moral wrongness of oppressing somebody based on gender."