The Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker behind ‘The World Before Her’ has criticized the giant Times of India Group, which had refused to promote the film, for undermining freedom of expression in India.
Writing in Dear Cinema, Nisha Pahuja described the Times Groups’ snub of her acclaimed documentary as a key factor in the film’s success and said it was a “lost opportunity” for India’s largest mass media company.
“I feel they did a disservice not just to the film, but also themselves. They lost an opportunity to really stand for the ideals and values of a free press – so, so critical now”, Pahuja wrote.
“Institutions and systems that form the pillars of any democracy must be able to withstand, engage and perhaps most importantly, encourage critiques — especially of themselves.”
‘The World Before Her’ is an unflinching portrayal of the predicament of women in India and follows two young women in wildly opposing circumstances: one a contestant in the Femina Miss India pageant, the other a student at a training camp for women run by the hard-line Hindu group the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The Times of India Group – which co-owns the Miss India pageant – banned all editorial coverage of the film after taking umbrage at Pahuja’s less-than-flattering look at the inner workings of the event.
The company was reportedly incensed with one particular scene which shows a cosmetic surgeon injecting botox into the faces of several Miss India contestants – some as young as 19 – in preparation for the pageant’s finale.
Pahuja writes: “If the image of the Miss India pageant has been tarnished through the film, that is not a bad thing at all.
“The Times group, like all of us, should be asking what kind of a world we are creating when giving 19-year-old girls botox and fillers is seen as empowering, necessary and/or a sign of India’s “progress.”
“Perhaps if they can’t defend the practice, they should reconsider it.”
Ironically, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – whose members are known for targeting mosques, churches and anyone deemed violating “Hindu customs” – have embraced the film despite initial misgivings.
According to Pahuja, the VHP has asked for her film to be shown at its training camps, “albeit with much of the Miss India footage deleted as it goes against ‘Hindu Culture'”.
Pahuja’s comments came a day after ‘The World Before Her’ was nominated in the category of ‘Outstanding Coverage of a Current News Story’ at this year’s News and Documentary Emmy Awards.
“It is such an honour to be nominated for an Emmy and especially to receive the news in India where the team has worked so hard to get the film out to audiences.
“I couldn’t quite believe the message when I received it in my inbox! In many ways it makes all the long hours and years that have gone into this film even more worth it!,” Nisha said in a statement.
‘The World Before Her’ has already won a slew of awards at film festivals around the world, including Best Documentary Feature at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Those successes led to the film being championed by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan as well as the man widely considered the godfather of India’s burgeoning independent film industry, Anurag Kashyap.
Since its release in India in June, the film has become the country’s highest grossing documentary film and received widespread acclaim from critics, with Time Out Mumbai calling it the “most important Indian film of the year”.
The News and Documentary Emmy Awards, presented by the US National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, will be held 30 September in New York.
The World Before Her is available for download on iTunes.