Nisha Pahuja hits the mark


Nisha Pahuja hits the mark

The award-winning documentary film-maker raises $50,000 for her India campaign

By ELLE team  April 9th, 2014

Nisha Pahuja is all sorts of inspirational. She made a controversial documentary about the state of the female identity in India, showcased it at festivals all over the world and won 19 awards in just 18 months. As of yesterday, she also achieved her target of raising $50,000 for her next step; her India campaign – Pahuja now embarks on a six-month journey to screen her film, The World Before Her, at schools, universities and villages across the country. Through this, she hopes to educate. And to inspire change.

Here’s a glimpse into the film and its maker.

Why focus on these women?

“I set out to make a film that would focus on the Miss India contest, with fundamentalism merely a sidebar. But then I met Prachi Trivedi, a young Hindu nationalist. She told me about the Durga Vahini (the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) training camps. And I realised I could explore two contrasting ideas of Indian identity through these women.

Despite apparent polarities, what makes these women similar?

“In a country like India, where equality is still such a battle for most women, both groups are valid forms of empowerment. Ruhi (a Miss India contestant) never questions the system. She does not object to wearing a sheet over her head when having her legs judged for their ‘perfection’. Prachi, who rejects marriage even though her father insists on it, feels that in a world of limited choices, convincing other young girls to become warriors is a way out for her. The irony, of course, is that both worlds are dictated by men.”

How has the experience changed you?

“I’ve been making films for over 15 years and I’ve never felt more enriched. It wasn’t easy to confront the prejudices of patriarchy that have so circumscribed women’s lives, but dealing with someone like Prachi’s father helped me see that men’s prejudices imprison them as much as they do the women around them. The real challenge is to get them to see that.”