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Highlights

Girls Will Be Girls premiere

“Girls Will Be Girls” Director Shuchi Talati Gets Frank About Female Sexuality in Indian Cinema

Kesav Binoy Kiron, Claire Chassagne, Shuchi Talati, Preeti Panigrahi and Richa Chadha (Haley Nord/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Veronika Lee Claghorn

“This may not come as a surprise to all of you, but sexuality, [especially] teenage sexuality, is not something in particular that we see in Indian cinema,” says writer-director Shuchi Talati at the January 20 premiere of her first feature, Girls Will Be Girls. “When we do see it, it’s kind of like the ‘vamp’ who is allowed access to sexuality that girls and women are not. Women on screen are often punished for exploring that part of themselves. It’s really important for people like me, Brown people, to be seen as sexual beings.” 

Mira, the 16-year-old vortex that Girls Will Be Girls swirls around, experiences her heart’s first harmony with another. Enchanted by a new, well-traveled, and slightly older classmate named Sri (played by theater veteran Kesav Binoy Kiron), Mira oscillates between being the goody two-shoes at her strict boarding school in Mongolia and acting on tingling new feelings for the suave heartthrob. 

Mira is portrayed in a graceful, steely, and stoic manner by Preeti Panigrahi. She intentionally blinks as the world around her is happening, and at one point, her new situationship beau says he defines her as “no bullshit.” Mira is like Truffaut’s young Antoine Doinel in reverse, especially when it comes to her entanglement with her young and seemingly unfulfilled mother. Whatever chords she has struck with Sri, both romantically and sexually, her young mother, Anila (Kani Kusruti), seems to frown upon or even covet. Much like the mother/daughter duo in Adura Onashile’s Girl, which screened at Sundance 2023, the ambiguous question is: Just who is the girl here?

While Mira does all she can at school to appear adult and imposing, tattling on other students and even acting as school principal for a day, Anila does what she can to appear bohemian and unconventional. Sri, the son of a diplomat who is never around, literally has his cake and eats it, too, as two females vie for the teenage boy’s attention.

Adding to the tug-of-war between daughter and mother, Mira, a diligent science student, is going toe-to-toe (or, quite frankly, tongue-to-back-of-hand and then some) trying to empirically examine her sexual awakening. 

Talati praises her young actors for their vulnerability in acting out their oftentimes clumsy sex scenes, but Panigrahi pipes up saying that she always felt protected. 

“We have a female cinematographer right there [Jih-E Peng]… women all around. I didn’t feel uncomfortable in [those scenes] at all! Kesav and I are really great friends!” the young actor explains as she side-hugs her co-star with a big smile.

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