The World Before Her - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The World Before Her Reviews

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Super Reviewer
July 22, 2016
An interesting contrast between two women growing up in India with different perspectives on how their lives should unfold. The viewer is along to see the good and the bad.
½ January 27, 2016
** This review contains spoilers. A lot. **

What is the difference between a documentary and propaganda? How do you walk the thin line when you make a documentary having cultural and political undertones? How do you refrain from drilling a particular world view into the audience? These are the questions which baffle me while watching documentaries. Ergo, I usually eschew documentaries. Last documentary which I truly enjoyed was "Super Size Me" by Morgan Spurlock, some 5 years ago. A very good friend recommended "The World Before Her" and I duly obliged. And it is one of the few films where I took copious notes too.

To begin with, I very much appreciate the fact that this film deliberated upon sensitive topic of female-foeticide. I applaud Pooja Chopra's mother for frankly sharing her experience about this abomination.

Secondly, the movie touched upon the topic of corporal punishment meted out to children by Indian parents. Description of corporal punishment meted out to Prachi was unnerving. Its ironic that children (here Prachi) actually justify it inspite of concrete evidence of psychological impacts in later life.

Lastly, I laud the effort of the film-makers to boldly document the events occuring in niches of Indian society. the general effort was aimed at reforming Indian society from within. This is highly laudable.

I have certain reservations with the content matter of the documentary too.

1. I'm a bit surprised by the choice of subjects for the documentation. What exactly the documentary wanted to conclude? At one end the documentary portrays structural and functional constraints at work in Indian society which inhibits women to pursue certain lines of occupation. At another end it insinuates the indoctrination of a bunch of Indian girls by an extreme-right and nationalist organisation. In between it throws punches on religious extremism and religio-political violence.
Conservatism, as such, is a strong undercurrent in Indian society which does fall fowl with certain lines of work for women. Structural and functional constraints for women have very little in common with religious extremism. An otherwise liberal and left-leaning person might be conservative with women. And feminism is all about rights of women in public sphere and politics. Private choices never define a feminist stance. Out of all, this documentary should have set this record straight.

2. What share of Indian women actually aspire to become Miss India or to join Durga Vahini ? I belong to the Hindi heartland of India and I came to know of Durga Vahini only after watching this documentary! Millions of young Indian women aspire to join Civil Services, police, PSUs and Armed Forces every year. On Republic Day 2015 India also showcased all-female military contingents in the parade. I'm surprised at the choice of nano-scaled niche groups which this documentary tries to portray. According to Wikipedia, the strength of Durga Vahini was 8000 in 2002. I'm pretty sure, even today that figure would not have crossed 50,000. Amongst 50 crore Indian women does these niche groups matter?

3. This documentary, like most others, has been made by a film-maker averse to nationalist and conservative world view. This fact is explicit by the facts provided and questions asked in the narrative. This stance can't be called 'liberal' because a liberal world view will respect the choices of a person and wouldn't vie for favourable responses. For example, in a question (towards the end of the film) the interviewer asks about Prachi Trivedi's reaction to 'westernization'- whatever that means. I personally know only of 'globalization' as an influence. As a model herself remarks during the film, will practice of Yoga in US be called 'Indianisation'. The words - Globalization and Westernization- are sure to elicit differing responses from a nationalist, which Trivedi is.

4. I want to comment on some conclusions presented in the documentary.

i) The documentary tells that "Over the past 20 years, Hindu nationalism has become a pervasive cultural and political force in India". I won't comment on political aspect here, but I can safely say that nationalism itself is not a major cultural force in India. A variant of patriotism is at display on national festivals but it doesn't necessarily translates into nationalism. Centuries of British Imperialism followed by decades of domination by Marxist academicians made sure that nationalism never ever becomes a dominant cultural force in India. Hindu nationalism, at best, remains a minor under-current in Indian countryside having value mainly as a handy political tool. If Hindu nationalism would have been a dominant cultural force, it would have annihilated sub-nationalistic currents prevailing in many parts of India.

ii) The documentary asserts that "Hindu extremists are also called the 'Indian Taliban'". This was a statement made for political ends by leaders of a particular grouping. Who else calls whom so ? You've trivialised the factual content by such loose statements. Taliban is a reactionary political grouping in Afganistan and Pakistan. It was midwifed by Americans during Soviet invasion. There are orthodox and reactionary political groupings in all thriving democracies. That's why they are 'democracies'.

iii) The documentary gives the folowing conclusions.
> "Hindu extremists have committed countless atrocities across India".
> "Many beleive Hindu extremists pose a greater threat to national security than Muslim ones"
As I understood the documentary was about the structural and functional constraints for women in society and feminist perspectives. Such statements make the documentary wade into political waters which polarises the opinion.

5. As the documentary was recommended by a very close friend, I made detailed observations. Doing so, I found some factual errors in the documentary.
> Translation for "Desh" as "Nation" instead of "Country" in the subtitles provided by the film-maker. There's a lot of difference between the two especially when you are wading in political waters. (@ 9:36 min in DvD)
> "Main wahan pe top pe jaungi" has been omitted altogether in the subtitles (@ 18:28 min). This omission changes a viewer's perception of the young girl getting trained at Durga Vahini's camp. Poor editing folks.
> "Parishad" refers to 'Vishwa Hindu Parishad' which is an 'organisation'. It is translated as "movement" instead. (@ 30:30 min in DvD). There is a major difference between the two.
> Insinuated "Hinsa" as "murder" (@ 54:51 min). Its 'violence' not 'murder'.
> Added "Culture" in the subtitles (@ 56:28 min.) It is not said by the speaker in the video. Come on folks, these are words which carry weight especially when you are making a documentary on sensitive topics.

In the end, "The World Before Her" is just another documentary made with preconceived notions about certain cultural morrings. It does touch some burning issues but falls flat when it comes to objective and in-depth analysis of deep rooted cultural traditions. If I may paraphrase the statement of a Miss India contestent, 'The World Before Her' certainly has the oomph to make it to the front page of Bombay Times. But alas, that is the last thing on which I'll judge success of anything.
April 6, 2015
One of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time. The battle between opposing worldviews in India today---right-wing Hindu fundamentalism and beauty pageant materialism. Alternatingly fascinating, funny, and sad.
February 26, 2015
A good study of women & their roles in 3rd world countries
January 24, 2015
Gave me a very different view of the Hindu culture I did not know before.
January 2, 2015
The documentary seems to be selling the pageant as a saviour for indian women. While its not really. It also seems to harbouring anti-hindu sentiments which are based on no facts.
½ November 17, 2014
Super documental acerca de la cultura Hindu y su religion. extraordinaria!!
½ August 31, 2014
An interesting documentary showing the extremes of traditional and modern cultures.
April 5, 2014
documentary showing the mind blowing rift between the traditional Hindu gender roles and that of the more "modern" Indian woman
February 28, 2014
Positively fascinating. I saw this at a film festival where, afterwards, the director spoke and answered questions which added more to this already skillful documentary.
February 27, 2014
Fascinating film about two completely different viewpoints on modern women's place in India. On the one hand: a culture promoting Western beauty and pageantry. On the other: a militant Muslim training camp that teaches girls how to kill those who oppose their religion. No idea why this wasn't nominated for any major awards - it's a deserving film.
February 24, 2014
The filmmaker's focus seems to be contrasting a group of self-confident young women from cities, who are aspiring for a Miss India crown & and another group of young women who are misguided, brain-washed and even controlled by self-loathing, socially conservative, religious fundamentalists! Obviously it is easy to sensationalize, but I think a wider perspective would have made this more appealing.

This is a missed opportunity to get candid views on the record, of a wider section of young women, aspiring to be artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, public servants, engineers and administrators, about what it means to live in this century and the promise of the future.

The subcontinent is also home to a growing number of women who are not only educated in English schools, but lived in cosmopolitan cities around the world; There is a very stark contrast between these women and those from traditional and provincial backgrounds. Now that contrast would be a more interesting and an uplifting perspective to present, not just to the western audience.
½ December 7, 2013
Vastly different worlds, outlook, attitudes, opportunities... Yet living but inches apart in the same country.
November 8, 2013
Fascinating and disturbing look at two extreme options some modern Indian women face for the future. Time is given to their families as well. The filmmaker hangs back and lets their narratives tell the story. Initially gave me a huge gratitude check for the privilege of being born a middle class American of West European descent. On closer thought, the cultural extremes shown in India are thriving in modern America too. That realization makes this film all the more frightening.
May 10, 2013
i think this movie will be great
January 13, 2013
Poignant and gut-wrenching. One young woman spends her life training for violent Hindu extremism. Her father proudly desribes beating and burning her as punishments. She expresses a gender variance and a desire to never marry, while her father insists she MUST marry, and even if it's a bad marriage, it is her duty to stay and produce children. She says it is her father's right to beat her, because he was kind enough to not kill her at birth for being a girl.

Meanwhile, 20 women prepare to compete in the Miss India pageant. They talk about being modern and free to follow their desires, but also speak of women being savagely beaten for being out with a man or consuming alcohol. The pageant judges require them to wear white bags over their heads and bodies with eyeholes cut in them, so they can be judged on their legs without the "distraction" of their hair and bodies. One contestant's mother speaks of her husband's desire to murder her daughter at birth, and her defiance resulted in him leaving her a single mother.
November 2, 2012
Interesting juxtaposition of what Indian women see as freedon: beauty pageant contestants vs. wannabe terrorists. I kind of wanted a control group though - not everything is an extreme, ya know?
½ June 11, 2012
This film contrasts the Miss India Pageant with a girls training camp for Hindu "fundamentalists". The "fundmenatlists" who like all fundamentalists tout their own warped interpretation of their religion as "truth" are violently opposed to beauty pageants. Clearly whichever of the two a young indian girl chooses, she is again letting men dictate the agenda
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