Firstly, I was thinking to myself how I had been rather lazy about my blogposts. The excuses were numerous; assignments, research proposals, too tired etc etc etc….
Secondly, my master thesis proposal has been quite a drag. The path to building intrinsic motivation for writing it has been interspersed with poetry, some parties, book readings, cooking and drooling over Fawad Khan. Needless to say the interspersed activities are much greater in number than what I have been able to write down for my proposal! So yesterday, a friend invited me to a facebook group called the #21daysofpassion. The description was simple, from 10th December 2015 onwards, do the thing you are passionate about for 21 days! It could be a minute thing or something of Brobdingnagian proportions. And since my procrastination and levels of being lazy had reached an infinity, I thought hey why not? Let me take this up, and already writing this early morning I feel motivated. So what will be today’s blogpost about? Last evening I finally managed to watch a feature length documentary film called ‘The World Before Her’.
I was in Delhi when the film by Nisha Pahuja was released, and everywhere I turned, people couldn’t stop raving about it. I somehow never got a chance to watch it, was too preoccupied with preparation for moving to the Netherlands for my higher studies. So away from all the praises, critical acclaim and more than a year later after the film released in India, I got round to watching it. So what might you ask is my verdict? Well after being transfixed and blabbering about it to a friend, the fact is that the film is still stuck in my mind, rattling inside me, constantly kneading my brain as I go over and over again about the film. The film juxtaposes the training platform of Miss India with that of the Durga Vahini camps organised by Vishwa Hindu Parishad. But is the intention ‘juxtaposition’?
Girls get groomed and taught how to walk, talk and eat in order to compete at the Miss India pageant. We see girls from various cities aspiring to win the title. Participating in the pageant is their way of asserting themselves and breaking free from the patriarchal setup. Yet as the girls get botoxed and judged on how good their legs are, I am left wondering if indeed the girls are breaking free?
The girls at the Durga Vahini camp on the other hand are getting trained in martial arts and shooting, making them mentally and physically strong. Poignantly, a trainer tells a girl, whole life you want to cut onions and cook? Prachi, one of the trainers who features prominently in the documentary asserts she does not want to get married. She is tied to her Hindutva ideology, is even ready to kill for it.
At first, the juxtaposition might appear as jarring, to create a contrast, but as the film ended, it struck me how both were training camps, producing and moulding girls under a certain ideology and belief system. In both, parents of the girls had been supportive of sending their daughters for the training, proud of them, even living through their achievements. One of the instances which struck me was how Prachi, the trainer at the Durga Vahini Camp was aggressive in her stance about not wanting to get married, whereas Ruhi, a 19 year old participant at the pageant said she wanted to enjoy her age till the time comes for her to marry and have children. Yet even as Ruhi’s parents are supportive, Prachi’s parents want her to get married eventually, since they feel it is the moral and social duty of a girl to get married. This is when the irony and the paradox, the facetious pageant world hit me hard.
It is chilling when a young girl in the Durga Vahini Camp claims she is proud she has no Muslim friends, and that whoever threatens India and Hinduism, she will readily shoot them. It is equally chilling when girls undergo botox and beauty regimens in the pageant, so much so that a girl remarks that is this freedom worth losing her soul to?
Perhaps, when the film ended and I mulled over the veritable emotions and thoughts the film had elicited, it made me question how far have we women come? And have we even come far indeed? If beauty pageants only reiterate the notions of feminine beauty as demanded by the society, are we then really free, free from any controls? Nisha Pahuja at one point asks Prachi if she realises that she is being controlled by the system, and Prachi responds that yes she is aware of it. I have a feeling that most of us are aware that subconsciously we get conditioned and controlled, and a point comes when it becomes our conscience itself. The boundary then between controlled, conditioned and consciousness gets blurred.