Indie Meme FF Movie Review: Girls will be Girls Continues on the Film Festival Circuit with Awards

Girls Will Be Girls is writer/director Shuchi Talati’s feature debut, an English-Hindi coming-of-age high school drama set in an Indian boarding school. Its teen protagonist, Mira (Preeti Panigrahi), is academically outstanding and lives by the book, yet she recognizes changes for herself and admires a young student, Srinivas, or “Sri” (Kesav Binoy Kiron), who is new to the school.

Mira is starting her 12th grade with grand recognition for her academic record. The morning assembly has her leading the school pledge. Within the promise, it is evident that this is a conservative school that reminds them of their culture. There is an expectation amid the now co-ed school, which is new to Mira’s mother, Anila (Kani Kusruti). Mira is reminded of this former separation of boys and girls in schools by her mother, who is to keep an eye on Mira not being swayed away from her studies.

Mira’s burgeoning sexuality is about to impact her behavior and her daily life with Anila. She met Sri during a nighttime astronomy lesson he was leading on the school rooftop. She enjoys his attention, and the more they talk, the more attraction grows for both. It is pretty evident that he is more mature and knowledgeable about romance than she is.

Mira has a dorm room with the other girls but occasionally visits Anila at her rented home while her husband works back home. She is to monitor Mira’s school activities and otherwise, but she notices her change despite hiding her feelings for Sri. Anila tries to be a more modern mother who understands and helps the budding romance, but still under her vigilant supervision. Anila had strict parents, yet she starts to step in too much when she sees what is developing. I saw a scene of one of the visits, and it left me wondering if there was more to the long talk with Sri than was shown. Communication between mother and daughter starts to fray.

Girls Will Be Girls presents female sexuality in a way American viewers may be a bit more accustomed to (but still reserved and sensitive) in coming-of-age stories, and more than I have seen in Indian cinema I have viewed in local theaters. Many films hardly show adults touching or kissing. I am surprised and yet happy for the filmmaker who has taken the steps to show the subject more boldly. It is well done with camera shots that allow the viewer to understand what is happening without full-body shots.

There is one scene that speaks volumes during one visit between Mira and Sri, and yet there is no dialogue between them. The couple has shared some words about something before, but they seem to be in silence, as if in a pause before Mira responds—with the focus on the young teen’s hands. When she moves a finger, the audience knows what she is conveying. It is a beautiful moment in the film.

Crew: Camera: Jih-E Peng. Editor: Amrita David. Music: Pierre Oberkampf. Songs: Sneha Khanwalkar.

The film was at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Competition), winning the Audience Award and the Acting Award for Preeti Panigrahi. It was also a Festival Favorites Audience Award nominee at this year’s SXSW Film & Television Festival and this month at the Indie Meme. It has English and Hindi dialogue. It runs for 118 minutes.

Source: Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and Indie Meme Film Festival

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