The World Before Her

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The World Before Her Movie Poster Image
Riveting docu explores rights of girls, women in India.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 90 minutes

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Positive Messages

By revealing the ages-old discrimination against females in the culture of India and the harsh realities of women's lives there today, the film cautions its audience about the consequences of such discrimination. A shattering look at the battle between fundamentalism and modern Western values as it applies to women and girls.

Positive Role Models & Representations

With very limited lifestyle choices, the girls and women shown here struggle to find their way. For the most part, they are striving for independence and to reconcile religious precepts and expectations in a culture that denies them even the right to exist. While their efforts and their passion are admirable, their goals are questionable (winning a beauty pageant) or violent and dangerous (a Hindu nationalist girls' camp). Distinct types of parenting -- from loving and permissive to rigid and brutal -- are shown.


Newsreel footage includes brief shots of: rioting, a woman who has been beaten, the aftermath of a bombing. Both a girl and her father graphically describe the beatings he uses to discipline her.


Beauty pageant contestants wear bikinis.


Rarely "bullshit."


Beauty pageant sponsor is FEMINA, an Indian magazine.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A World Before Her is a thought-provoking, award-winning documentary that focuses on two distinct groups of girls and young women in India. The film finds its subjects at a prestigious beauty pageant and at a girls' camp run by Hindu extremists. It's mature material -- often disturbing and very sad. At the same time, it's an eye-opening look at a two important sub-cultures in a developing country that will enlighten teens as well as adults. The film uses some short news clips of rioting and beating in India's streets, and a young girl talks about her father's abusive punishments. The Miss India World hopefuls wear skimpy bikinis and pose seductively during the contest. The camp trains the girls with weapons and incites their participation in violent campaigns as a way to attain their goals.

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What's the story?

THE WORLD BEFORE HER takes an in-depth look at two distinct sub-cultures available to women and girls in modern India: a popular beauty pageant and a Hindu extremist girls' camp. Without narration, judgment, or criticism, director Nisha Pahuja uses interviews, film, newsreel footage, and personal stories to observe and illuminate the girls and the philosophies that guide both entities. Each endeavor requires lengthy preparation and Pahuja's camera and questions follows several girls through their journeys.


Is it any good?

The World Before Her is powerful in both its simplicity and its willingness to let the material speak for itself. It will remind its audience of the plight of girls and women in India, a country which prides itself on its modernism and forward-thinking development. For the pageant contestants it's skin-whitening, Botox, training in modeling, diction, makeup, and fashion. Most of the young women see their participation as a way to avoid the second-class citizenry India assigns to their gender. For the girls sent to the camp its an indoctrination based on traditional, pre-Gandhi Hinduism and promoting armed conflict in defense of their religion. The teachings are staunchly anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-career, and anti-modernism. Director Pahuja brought the first crew ever allowed to visit a Durga Vahini camp, a part of the women's wing of the fundamentalist Vishva Hindu Parishad.)

Girls will be able to identify with and find compassion for their Indian counterparts, who are bright, driven, and struggling to emerge as independent women in a repressive environment. It's a remarkable film, a story told with impeccable attention to important details and to emotional understanding, that's highly recommended for older girls, teens, and family viewing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk abut what they learned by watching this movie. Did the information in this movie surprise you? Why is it important for us to know and understand what happens in other countries and cultures?

  • Did you notice that the filmmakers did not give their opinions or tell you how to feel about what you were watching? Did you come to your own conclusions? Is this an effective way to tell a story?

  • In what ways are Ruhi and the other beauty contestants different from Prachi and the other girls who attend the camp? In what ways are they the same? Do you see any similarities between the contest and the camp?

Movie details

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