With every-shot-a-painting visuals and startlingly honest interviews with participants, this documentary earns its four-hour running time. The girls we're introduced to quickly emerge as individuals: impish Thenmozhi, conflicted Karthika, Manjula, whose own family thinks her schooling is a waste of time, and who sleeps (or doesn't) on a hard stone floor with her mother and grandmother. The same mother and grandmother that she must leave to attend school at Shanti Bhavan, a reality the series doesn't shy away from: The very first scene we see is of teary-eyed mothers and sometimes-shrieking 4-year-olds, separating for the first time.
And yet we see, too, how the experiment seems to be working -- how Shanti Bhavan widens these children's horizons and expands their opportunities. In Thenmozhi's house, her mother sits all day making matchboxes just to have enough food to feed the family. Thenmozhi's older sister, who was not invited to attend the school -- only one child per family is accepted -- has already started to make the matchbooks too, dully watching dubbed Cartoon Network shows as she works. Thenmozhi now dreams of being a vet, an ambition, she frankly tells us, she wouldn't have had without Shanti Bhavan. She also tells us if she had one wish, it would be that her mother would come take her home, that very day, and she could be with her mother. Hope, at great cost. Daughters of Destiny shows us both, and makes us hope for these girls too.