The World Before Her is a documentary that attempts to contrast the lives of two women who apparently belong to very different worlds. One of them heads a Durga Vahini camp, while another is a beauty pageant aspirant. The director Nisha Pahuja must be congratulated for closely observing the women in their various moods. That said, while she explored and even commented on the regressive aspects of the Durga Vahini and nicely exposed at least some of the contradictions of that life, she failed to be nearly as critical of the other side of the binary. I will strongly argue that the director was not just “documenting” but also passing her own judgments, not only by the choice of footage and conversations, but also by showing some clippings of extremism by the Hindutva goons. Not once did she comment directly on capitalist consumerism which is at the root of the conceptualization of beauty contests. Right from setting a standard definition of what constitutes beauty to objectifying the human body, not to mention feeding the frenzy of presenting the human body as a consumable object [subsumed in the logic of market] – the beauty pageants happen to be hubs of regressive value generation.
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