Documentary Explores The Feminist Struggle In India At Sun Valley Festival

Mar 1, 2013

The Family of Woman Film Festival is underway in Sun Valley. One documentary that will be shown this weekend comes from Nisha Pahuja, a filmmaker who splits her time between India and Toronto. Her film, “The World Before Her,” looks at two different groups of women.

Puhuja follows one group as they compete for the crown of Miss India, the country’s national beauty contest. The filmmaker says these women use fashion and modeling to rise above the patriarchal society. But the messages they receive as they conform to westernized views of beauty are mixed.

“There was one girl I remember, I’ll never forget this," she says. "I asked her how she felt about being a woman, and she said what this pageant was giving her was this sense of freedom and that she wasn’t in a cage. And I thought that was so ironic because she is in a cage.”

Pahuja was the first filmmaker to visit a militant camp that trains young women to defend traditional Hindu values in India. In an emotional part of the film, one of the young women in the camp declares that she hates Gandhi and would kill to protect her country from western influences.  

Pahuja says her film chronicles the struggle between modernity and tradition in India.

“Over the years I’ve been going to India and I’ve been witnessing the country struggle and change and sort of figure out what it’s going to be. It’s a place that I’m very attached to, so I care about what’s happening to it and I care about the women that are struggling in it.”

In light of the December gang rape of a woman on a bus in New Delhi, Pahuja says her home country can never go back to a time where women’s issues weren’t everyone’s issues.

“That was sort of turning point, right? And it feels like now the country – there’s no turning back from that," Pahuja says. "And so people are really looking at what they’re going to be and at who they are.”

Her film has received international recognition. It will be screened at 7 p.m. Saturday evening at the Sun Valley Opera House.