Documentary Explores Life In a Hindu Nationalist Camp, and the Miss India Pageant

June 19, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

“Frankly, I hate Ghandi,” says a young woman in The World Before Her, a groundbreaking documentary by Indian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja. The film follows the parallel universes of young women competing in the Miss India beauty pageant, while their peers train as fighters in Hindu nationalist camps. On the issues entrenched in the film, Al Jazeera writes:

[The documentary] shows feisty Durga Vahini youth leader Prachi Trivedi, 24, brushing off criticism of the camp as a fighter training ground.

“We don’t have AK-47s,” Trivedi says, but later adds she would make a bomb, “if the condition comes”. Another girl talks about being “proud” she has no Muslim friends.

By contrast, Miss India contestants are shown being pressured into having botox injections and parading in bikinis with white sheets covering their heads so that a male pageant organiser can judge their legs without being “distracted”.

The trailer offers a sobering look at the diverse, contradictory and extreme cultures of the massive nation. While the beauty pageant contestants exercise and don make up, the young Hindu nationalists chant, “Ask for milk we’ll give you rice pudding. Ask for Kashmir, we’ll slit your throats.”

The World Before Her has toured the world festival circuit for the last two years, but has yet to be screened in India, until now. Pahuja had to get past many layers of bureaucracy controlled by Hindu nationalist interests to get any screening approved. After the recent landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party, she was worried this would be even tougher. But somehow, the film hasn’t been censored, as of yet. Pahuja thinks this might be because of the objectivity of the film, and her attempt to humanize both groups. “It’s so easy to just simply demonise them because you know for a lot of people their political beliefs are so problematic but… it’s important to understand why these forces exist, or why these belief systems exist, as opposed to just criticizing the fact that they do,” she told Al Jazeera. Learn more about the film here.