Indo-Canadian Film Triumphs At Hot Docs
Indo-Canadian Director Nisha Pahuja’s ‘The World Before Her’ won the best Canadian feature prize at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival
Indo-Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s ‘The World Before Her’ grabbed the Best Canadian feature film prize at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival, a week after it was declared as the best documentary at Tribeca Film Festival. Even though the film had become the talk of the town and had critics raving about it before its premiere, Nisha Pahuja tells Can-India News that she was pleasantly surprised to have won. “The feeling hasn’t quite sunk in. With so many great docs at the festival, it comes as a pleasant surprise to have won,” says Nisha.
‘The World Before Her’ moves between two groups of women; young women from across the country competing for the Miss India pageant and the women’s wing of the militant fundamentalist movement.
“When we started the project about four years back, we thought Miss India pageant would be an interesting way to look at modern day India and how women were able to achieve some kind of emancipation through the pageant.”
“Winning the title meant instant stardom, a promising career but for some girls it was about freedom and finding their voice. Yet amid pageant dazzle and heated rhetoric, Hindu fundamentalists and feminists viewed pageants as immoral and a symbol of the rapid Westernization of India. I realized it was important to also include voices of the opposition.”
It took Nisha two years to get access to an annual camp for young girls run by the Durgha Vahini, the women’s wing of the militant fundamentalist movement. Through lectures and physical combat training, the girls learn what it means to be good Hindu women and how to fight against Islam, Christianity and Western influences by any means necessary.
Religious or culturally prudent?
India is a billion strong nation with misplaced anarchy and torn between ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’, ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘capitalism’. As drastic change sweeps through the country, control over women is the epicenter of divide between Western modernity and timeworn patriarchal traditions.
“When you have such a rich culture and have such a strong belief system, women get caught in the middle of the cultural onslaught from the West. We think that capitalism and the West equals modernity. But that’s not true. Some of the things that West advocates like democracy, human rights, equality of sexes…I believe in those values but it’s not right to turn every country into a marketplace for your products and ideas. We have to question influences that come into a country. I don’t blame the fundamentalists for having an issue with certain aspects of westernization. When so much goes into making us who and what we are, do we not then have to question the very notion of freedom itself?”
Bridging the gap
‘The World Before Her’ moves between two different worlds to create a provocative vignette of the world’s largest democracy at a critical transitional moment. “Though India is growing rapidly at an approximate 9% but the growth is just really benefitting a very small percentage of people. It’s an unbalanced growth. The complexity in India is not just gender but also poverty. Sadly, just as women are staking their claim in this new country, so the violence and oppression against them continue to mount.”
“With the film, we just hope to be part of the dialogue. These young women may represent opposing extremes but in their hearts they share a common dream: to help shape the future of India as she meets the world before her.”
Nisha says that she is still interested to explore the complexity of fundamentalism across the world in her forthcoming projects.
For more information about Nisha Pahuja or to view ‘The World Before Her’, please visit www.worldbeforeher.com.