Her First Time review: Divya Unny's directorial debut needs to be seen by as large an audience as possible

Anupam Kant Verma

May 25, 2018 08:37:50 IST


Directed by debutante Divya Unny, Her First Time, the latest presentation by Large Short Films, is an exercise in economy and restraint. Clocking in at around eight and a half minutes, it steers clear of cinematic flourishes and pyrotechnics and rarely wastes a frame in the service of a story whose earnestness and significance cannot be stressed enough.

In case the title doesn’t make it clear, Her First Time is the story of a girl taking her first step towards womanhood: her first period. The dramatic conflict is provided by the absence of her mother on the day, and a father who is clueless about handling the situation. The events at home are juxtaposed with her mother, a doctor, helping deliver a child.

What comes through most poignantly is the director’s belief in the story and the authenticity of the characters. Unny is aware of the stigma, ignorance and superstition surrounding menstruation. One wouldn’t have entirely faulted her had she been swayed by this awareness into crafting an angrier film eager for confrontation. But the moment her film begins with soft-lit shots of drawings, toys, and other appurtenances of childhood gradually giving way to the girl’s discovery of blood, we know Unny has chosen empathy over anger. For even though the film is explicitly on this subject, it is also a quiet tribute to the relationship between mother and daughter, which eventually ensures that this transitory moment takes place with the simplicity and ease it deserves. A particularly striking moment sees a flashback begin from the daughter’s perspective and end at the mother’s, as if providing a subtle clue to the beating heart of the film. Again, the effect is achieved without drawing attention to itself, in keeping with its ethos.

Her First Time review: Divya Unnys directorial debut needs to be seen by as large an audience as possible

A still from Her First Time/Image from YouTube.

The father, clueless as he is, makes efforts, howsoever late and flailing, to grapple with the situation and help his young daughter. His presence lends a light, funny edge to the narrative, in addition to giving it its most poignant moments. Frankly, it isn’t difficult to empathise with a man frantically googling ways to help his daughter during her first period. Veena Nair turns in a commanding performance, crafting a character that, even within the limited run-time, manages to assimilate the manifold facets of the mother figure. One hopes she receives even more challenging roles in the years to come, for she certainly seems well equipped for them.

The film ends with statistics on the widespread ignorance about this subject, some of which are quite surprising and disturbing. They come in stark contrast to the opening frames of the film filled with the paraphernalia of childhood. Moreover, these numbers are a reminder of the urgency of the situation and a clarion call for films that choose earnestness over embellishment and clarity over willful obfuscation.

I’ll admit I found myself craving for cinematic adornment and pyrotechnics during my first viewing, a mistake I subconsciously corrected when I watched it again. There is a joy to watching people be simply people, and nothing over and beyond their true selves. It often takes getting used to. The task of a filmmaker is perhaps as simple as being mindful of this truth while dropping these people, now metamorphosed into characters, within the warp and weft of a cinematic narrative. More than anything else, Her First Time’s commitment to this rule ensures that its message goes through to the viewer untarnished and pure.

Human lives, quite like Unny’s film, are played out between the drama of childhood and the long shadow of statistics, which we are always at the risk of dissolving into. While it could indeed have benefited with more imaginative cinematography, Her First Time remains a solid first outing for the director. It is a film that needs to be seen and its message grasped and mulled over by as large an audience as possible.

Watch the movie here:

Updated Date: May 25, 2018 08:40:04 IST