Winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival 2024, Girls will be Girls is a coming-of-age drama written and directed by Shuchi Talati. The film also features the acting debut of Preeti Panigrahi, who won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting.
Set in a school in the Himalayas, 16-year-old student Mira (Panigrahi) is a star student, newly selected head prefect and a teen hates her mother Alina (Kani Kusruti). Through astronomy club, Mira finds herself attracted to Sri (Kesav Binoy Kiron), a transfer student who had previously attended an international in Hong Kong. Their interactions brew into a tentative romance but as their relationship physically deepens, Alina’s intrusiveness between them evolves into an emotional connection that threatens the relationships between Sri and Mira but between Alina and Mira.
Despite close friendships and relationships between male and female students being frowned upon, there is a clear division between what is expected between boys and girls – girls are told, nay disciplined, to be more conservative with longer skirts but are advised to ignore their male schoolmates upskirting them as the girls walk up stairs. The fact that girls cannot be safe at school and the teachers cannot do much is discomforting, which paints an unsettling picture as to how girls are unfairly treated in such an environment. Meanwhile, Alina’s disciplinarian approach to parenting makes her push Mira towards prioritising her education, with her and Mira’s dad stating that “studies are the most important”. But the fear of should Mira fail, Alina would be the one to “blame” insinuates that there is more at stake than Mira’s future.
Despite this, Mira becomes a hypocrite when her attraction to Sri feeds her sexual awakening through kisses, hand-holding and intimate touching. Although the two reiterate they are “friends”, the lengths that Alina goes to separate them such as locked doors and different study areas initially indicate an unsurprising lack of trust. But as Sri spends more time with Alina (to enable him to continue coming round to Mira’s house), it not only unwittingly feeding Mira’s jealousy and becomes increasingly tense and uncomfortable, which makes audiences wonder about Sri’s sincerity towards both characters.
Talati’s screenplay gently captures the idealism of first love and the realities of being a teenage girl. Mira is quickly caught up in the thrill of a secret relationship, exploring pleasure and practising how to kiss, but there is that relatable fear of being with someone for the first time. She tries to enlighten herself during an awkward visit to an internet cafe but is thrown by Sri’s previously undisclosed experience. This apprehension shakes Mira’s typically headstrong demeanour and finds herself juggling complex feelings such as affection and jealousy through noticeable body language and snide comments.
Talati’s direction and Jih-E Peng’s cinematography make smart use of the production design to build tension, frustration and even fear throughout this slow-burn narrative with the cast subtly delivered the former’s sensitive dialogue. Panigrahi’s stellar debut anchors the film through her endearing and confident performance, which also supports a simmering chemistry with fellow newcomer Kiran. Meanwhile, Kusruti brings a complex performance that embraces the attention of a younger man while trying to protect the honour of her daughter.
The last ten minutes of Girls will be Girls offers a rushed yet frightening reality check the actions of the characters come back to haunt them, which causes the film to slightly flummox in favour of a satisfying conclusion. However, the ambiguity of its gentle ending leave audiences to crave the return of the emotional investment building throughout the film, only to seemingly dissipate. Nonetheless, there is a curiosity behind Girls will be Girls that beautifully relays the challenges between mothers and daughters, marking a lovely debut from Talati.
Director: Shuchi Talati
Stars: Preeti Panigrahi, Kani Kusruti, Kesav Binoy Kiron
Runtime: 90 minutes