In the lobby of a modest Bombay hotel, 20 young women from across India arrive for an intense, month-long beauty boot camp. They are the hand-picked contestants for the Miss India pageant, the ultimate glamour event in a country that has gone mad for beauty contests. Winning the coveted title means instant stardom, a lucrative career path and, for some girls, freedom from the constraints of a patriarchal society. But as the popularity of pageants has exploded, so have the controversies surrounding them. Through dramatic vérité action and unprecedented behind-the-scenes access, The World Before Her sweeps back the curtain to reveal the intimate stories of young women determined to win the crown and the forces that oppose them. Hindu fundamentalists view pageants and their "international" beauty standards as immoral and a symbol of the rapid Westernization of India; protests are common.
Yet amid pageant dazzle and heated rhetoric, filmmaker Nisha Pahuja ensures the faces and voices of India's young women remain front stage centre. As the contestants move through beauty boot camp, Pahuja travels to another corner of India to visit an annual camp for young girls run by the Durgha Vahini, the women's wing of the militant fundamentalist movement. Through lectures and physical combat training, the girls learn what it means to be good Hindu women and how to fight against Islam, Christianity and Western influences by any means necessary. The Indian government says these camps promote terrorism and is trying to ban them. Until now, they have never been filmed. At the camp we meet a dynamic Durgha Vahini youth leader who has already fought on the front lines and says she is willing to die for her beliefs. Yet her passionate desire to work for the cause sparks constant household friction; her father insists she will marry and soon.
Moving between the transformative action at both camps and the characters' private lives, The World Before Her creates a lively, provocative portrait of the world's largest democracy at a critical transitional moment. These young women may represent opposing extremes but in their hearts they share a common dream: to help shape the future of India as she meets the world before her.