She refuses to be pinned down by labels and is as fearless, articulate and candid as the protagonists of her film. Filmmaker Nisha Pahuja released her film, The World Before Her , a feature length documentary, across multiplexes in the country last week. The World Before Her gives us access to two radically opposite women: Ruhi Singh, a 19-year-old contestant of the Miss India Pageant and Prachi Trivedi, a 24-year-old staunch member of Durga Vahini, the women's wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Navigating through the private worlds of Ruhi, Prachi and others like them, the film offers an insight into their minds, their dreams and the choices before them.
The film was released in New Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata and Mumbai this past week. Pahuja brings her film to Chennai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad (special release) today. She talks about her film, the process of filmmaking, the documentary in India and more in this interview: Excerpts:
How did you decide on the subject of the film, especially to juxtapose the Miss India pageant with a right wing group such as Durga Vahini?
When I began shooting for the film, I was planning to focus only on the Miss India contest. Then I began to understand and encounter the kind of opposition that the pageant faced from right wing groups. Gradually, I met more people from right wing groups in India and I realised that their voice needed to be stronger in the film. In fact, they were very interesting.
One doesn't often get this kind of access into a right wing women's group like Durga Vahini. How did you meet Prachi and get permission to shoot the annual camp of Durga Vahini?
An editor of a right wing newspaper introduced me to Prachi. In fact, he introduced me to a number of people from the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Durga Vahini. I spent two years with Prachi before I picked up the camera for the film. She has a very rich and complex personality. In fact, I share a close relationship with her even today. It is through her that I managed to attend the annual camp of Durga Vahini.
Did you share the same kind of equation with the other camp - with the contestants of the pageant?
No, I did not have the same equation with the contestants at the pageant. The stakes are high when it comes to the glamour industry. One has to put up a persona and as a filmmaker it was difficult to move beyond that persona. For instance, Marc who was in charge of mentoring the contestants is someone who has a certain persona that fits the glamour industry. It was difficult to get past that persona. There was a reality TV crew shooting the same pageant while we were shooting. I could see that almost everyone at the pageant had begun to put on a TV- friendly-quick TV-byte kind of personality.
In the film, Prachi is heard saying that she could kill if she has to. How difficult was it to shoot a film like this- especially because one has to tread carefully so as to not misrepresent the views of someone like Prachi, for instance?
Prachi, I realised, is a product of her environment. Yes, she has radical viewpoints. So, the task before me was to represent her in a manner that does not sensationalise her views and instead, offers a responsible and sensitive access to her life. A sensational reading of Prachi would block, frame and fix her in a particular box. I don't want to do that to her. These are Prachi’s views right now. They might change in a few years.
Would your film be a case in point for the emerging success of the documentary as a form in India today?
I think the documentary has begun to get mainstream acceptance and with each year, this acceptance is only growing. There are a number of documentaries today that are gaining popularity. And, yes this mega-release for my film is an encouraging sign.
How did you fund the making of the film?
Funding the film was a long process. We raised money through international broadcasters and various funders in Canada.
How did Anurag Kashyap come to be associated with the film?
A mutual friend introduced Anurag to me. He watched the film, liked it and decided to support it. In many ways, he has been the champion of the film. He has lent his name and reputation to the film. In fact, he actively participates in Q&A sessions after the screenings of the film.
What is the response for the film at the Q&A sessions?
The response has been fantastic. It is a dense and complex film with a lot of ideas. People empathise with the women on screen and have a lot of ideas and questions. The discussions have been really enlightening and interesting.