Hot Docs 2012: Nisha Pahuja explores “The World Before Her”

Fresh from winning best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, Toronto-based director Nisha Pahuja tells realscreen that the process of making her film felt like "pushing a rock up a mountain."
May 2, 2012

Fresh from winning best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, Toronto-based director Nisha Pahuja tells realscreen the process of making The World Before Her felt like “pushing a rock up a mountain.”

“There’s a feeling of disbelief but also pride because it took so long to make this film,” says Pahuja about the win. “It was four years and it felt like we were constantly pushing this rock that just got heavier and heavier up this mountain and it never got lighter. It was such a nice thing [to win], [it made it seem] that it was worth it.”

A major obstacle came in the form of funding, as the filmmakers researched and filmed for two and a half years out of their own pockets.

Then ZDF/ARTE and Knowledge Network in Canada came on board with investment, and after Pahuja and her producers pitched at IDFA Forum, a number of broadcasters and funding bodies also joined the ranks, including Channel 4 in the UK, Gucci Tribeca Fund, and CineReach.

Pahuja and executive producers Ed Barreveld and Cornelia Principe then raised other funds through Shaw Media-Hot Docs Funds, Telfilm, Rogers and the OMDC.

“It was a little bit like you had scraps to eat and all of a sudden you were at a banquet,” she says.

Pahuja says the film was originally drafted to tell the story of the changes enveloping contemporary India through the prism of a beauty pageant.

“It was going to be primarily driven by the narrative of the pageant following these girls, like Hoop Dreams, with these other sidebar storylines of resistance, but those just became so interesting,” says Pahuja. “The more I did research, the more that I realized the balance of the film had to shift. The [Hindu] fundamentalists are so compelling and I met Prachi [a young fundamentalist] so that really turned it around and it evolved from there.”

Pahuja traveled to an annual camp for young girls run by the Durgha Vahini, the women’s wing of the militant fundamentalist movement, which had never been filmed before.

She gained access by meeting people at all levels of the camp, and over several years gained the trust of the higher authorities who gave their approval for filming.

“I was very truthful. I told them that I didn’t agree with their politics, because I don’t, but I wanted to understand where it was that they were coming from and why they were espousing these types of beliefs. I wasn’t going to judge them, I was going to present them as they presented themselves to me.”

Distributed by Kinosmith in Canada, The World Before Her is looking for international distributors.

The film premieres tonight (May 2) at 7:00 p.m at Hot Docs.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.