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Sundance 2024: Shuchi Talati’s “Girls Will Be Girls” Is a Scintillating Coming-of-Age Debut

Sundance 2024: Shuchi Talati’s “Girls Will Be Girls” Is a Scintillating Coming-of-Age Debut

Girls Will Be Girls - 2024 - Afrocritik

For Girls Will Be Girls, her first feature film, Shuchi Talati brilliantly explores the intricacies of mother-daughter relationships and sexual awakening in a compelling Indo-French coming-of-age drama.

By Jerry Chiemeke

In Girls Will Be Girls, when Mira (Preeti Panigrahi), a brilliant and introverted 16-year-old, is announced as the first-ever female Head Prefect at her socially conservative boarding school in the Himalayas, she finds herself grappling with a system bedevilled by acute gender imbalance. Girls are instructed to wear longer skirts and stay away from boys, and even when she complains to the principal that the senior boys take photos of the girls’ underpants without consent, the response she gets is a lukewarm injunction to enforce a stricter dress code.

Sri (Kesav Binoy Kiron), a charismatic 18-year-old transferred from an international school in Hong Kong, makes an impression on Mira when he introduces an Astronomy Club to the school. She is curious enough to go stargazing with Sri, and telescopes soon give way to a budding romance. Mira’s erstwhile routine existence, which featured big books and test scores, is quickly upended as she yearns for more kisses and surfs the internet to learn ways of pleasing his body – and hers.

Mira’s self-discovery is disrupted by her mother, the calculative Anila (Kani Kusruti), who suspects that her daughter is entertaining male affection, and insists that the teenagers only hang out in her presence. Things take a heated turn when Anila also begins to crave Sri’s attention, and what was once a fanciful liaison between two lovebirds becomes an emotional triangle, and ultimately, a cold war between mother and daughter. 

Girls will be girls jpg

Talati, who also writes the film’s screenplay, does a fantastic job of building a cohesive thematic core. Her plot is centred on female agency, sexual repression, gender dynamics, and the intricacies that accompany mother-daughter relationships. With a runtime of 118 minutes, this character-driven, slow-burning drama captures a lifetime’s worth of tension and angst in fervid scenes that feature succinct dialogue: a simple “now, I just can’t stand her” tells the audience all they need to know about the gulf between two generations of women.

Panigrahi embodies the precocious, wide-eyed Mira with nuanced earnestness, oscillating between confidence and uncertainty as she buckles under the charm of Kiron’s suave, lady-killing Sri. But it is Kusruti who hands in a measured performance as she navigates Anila’s conflicting emotions: perplexed by her daughter’s sexual awakening, mulling over the agency she never got to express, competing for the keen eyes of a teenage boy.

Girls Will Be Girls - 2024 - Afrocritik

A lot of the film’s beauty also lies in the deft cinematography and visual nous of Jih-E Peng: low-angle shots of Panigrahi observing her surroundings are deployed to underscore Mira’s perceptiveness, and the over-the-shoulder, as well as close-up shots, depict the competition between Anila and Mira:  the disco scene paints a vivid picture with few words.

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The plot loses some steam in the final 15 minutes with a predictable denouement – Mira suffers a traumatic experience at school that brings her closer to Anila –  but Girls Will Be Girls is dazzling nonetheless. Talati’s feature directorial debut is a refreshing, enthralling take on the fraught silence that sometimes engulfs mother and daughter, with a flavour of storytelling that is as distinct as it is stirring.

Girls Will Be Girls won the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic at the 2024  Sundance Film Festival, with Preeti Panigrahi also clinching the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting.

 The Sundance Film Festival, a programme of the nonprofit, Sundance Institute, is the pre-eminent gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives. Since 1985, hundreds of films launched at the Festival have gone on to gain critical acclaim and reach new audiences worldwide. The programme consists of fiction and nonfiction features and short films, series and episodic content, innovative storytelling, and performances, as well as conversations, and other events.

Jerry Chiemeke is a communications executive, film critic, journalist, and lawyer. His works have appeared in Die Welt, The i Paper, The Africa Report, Culture Custodian, and Statement Africa, among others. He has been selected for international film festivals like Berlinale, Durban International Film Festival, and Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia. Jerry lives in London, where he writes on Nollywood, African literature, and Nigerian music. He is the author of Dreaming of Ways to Understand You, a collection of short stories.

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