The lyrics of the first song in the movie says something that can be roughly translated to ‘a bird that has left its nest’ which is not fully accurate because June is on her way back to her nest. And that’s the overall understanding I made of this movie; it moves back and forth between trying to be something and being something else altogether.
In this piece, I will be mostly only looking at the first part of the movie, their school days. When they show high school life in Kerala in such an honest manner, the portrayal just felt like someone had taped my actual school proceedings. It is adorable, truthful and innocent and the various characters stick out in the manner they are supposed to. They do play to some stereotypes; there is a girl from Bangalore who has short hair, a boy who has some gulf connections overdoes himself in class and so on. The two characters whose arc I was very invested in, besides the eponymic June herself, was Fida and Noel. Fida, with her thattam and dreams of being a supermodel, came across as a confident girl who was very sure of herself and what she wanted to do. Fida’s arc however ends with her being the tired mother of a child who says ‘who has time for these silly things’ when someone mentions her beautiful hair. In our introduction to Noel, we meet a nervous and stuttering boy who is not very confident in Malayalam as he has grown up in Mumbai. By the end of his school arc, we meet a confident boy who speaks without stuttering in his mix of Malayalam of English, who feels a sense of belonging and community in the people he has met.
June herself is a vivacious character, who like other school girls her age, wants to dress up in a supposed attractive manner, emulating actors like Preity Zinta from Dil Chahta Hai. She has braces going into 11th grade and these braces are almost a metonym for growing up. Her family is small and her close relationship with her father is made evident in the scenes that they interact in. It’s a very typical middle class household and sort of reminds you of another Malayalam movie ‘Om Shanthi Oshana’ at certain points.
Many of the coming of age movies that we see in popular media, especially in India, are so incredibly male dominated that the only space there are for women and girls in them are when they appear as objects of interest, or love interests. Very rarely have people made films that showcase female friendships, much less girls growing up and the fun and tragedies that they evoke. June captures the all too familiar insecurities, the liberties you can take with your female friends, the power of haircuts and things that are very personal to growing up, for a girl, and especially for a girl in Kerala. It is true that more often than not, I haven’t been able to relate to so many young adult male dominated films because they showed things that I wasn’t ever able to do and wasn’t allowed to do when I was growing up. And there is a point in the film that showcases this pain of the trivial things that boys can so easily enjoy. She goes with four of her male friends to visit a college, having lied at home about where she’s going and with whom she’s going. But the repercussions that await her are drastically different from what the boys go through.
That moment when the young, playful school yard romance dies is almost painful to watch because as someone who has grown up in Kerala, I have heard almost the same dialogues being thrown at some of my friends when their relationships ‘got caught’ at home. “You’re a girl, what will happen when everyone comes to know” – the insinuations and implications made, show the depth at which a girl’s stumbling through her teenage life can be more scarring to her than the umpteen mistakes and troubles that a boy is allowed to make.
At its heart, June is a movie about growing up, coming of age in a Kerala that wants its daughters to be worldly, well educated and working, but also thinks of marriage as a requirement in that journey to adulthood. It also inevitably encourages, subtly perhaps, the long standing tradition of arranged marriage. And this disappointed me.