Director Manjari Makijany is best known for her award-winning short films; however, her debut feature film Skater Girl on Netflix is a wonderfully moving story about introducing skating to kids in a remote Rajasthani village.
AT A GLANCE:
- Starring: Amrit Maghera, Rachel Sanchita Gupta, Shafin Patel, Jonathan Readwin, Waheeda Rehman
- Directed by: Manjari Makijany
- Rating: *** 1/2 (three and a half stars)
What could go wrong with this attempt at skateboard emancipation? A lot, especially if it’s a woman’s initiative. Amrit Maghera (aka Amy Maghera) plays Jessica, a 20 something British lady who is visiting her father’s native village. She comes to see where her Indian father grew up before being adopted by British people, and serendipitously meets her American friend Erick, a teacher there who also happens to be a skater.
Parallelly, we get glimpses into Prerna’s daily life, a young girl played by newcomer Rachel Sanchita Gupta. Without a proper uniform and money to buy books, Prerna is constantly kicked out of class and is discouraged from going to school. When she and the other kids see Erick’s skateboard, they are immediately enamoured and drawn to it.
Jessica builds on their interest, and in a boss move, buys them all skateboards.
Soon, skating takes the village by storm and it’s all the kids want to do, they even begin missing school to skate around the village.
Even though Jessica later tells the kids to not skip school, the village is outraged, they find skateboarding to be a nuisance and subsequently take steps to ban it. But Jessica is determined to find a way. With the help of Erick and his skateboarding buddies who arrive from Bangalore, she proposes that they build a skatepark, the first one in Rajasthan.
Fun fact: the makers of SKATER GIRL really built the skatepark you see in the film— It’s the first skatepark in the state of Rajasthan and one of the largest in all of India, where the skateboarding community only continues to grow. pic.twitter.com/sKzBjEtRDM
— NetflixFilm (@NetflixFilm) June 12, 2021
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Meanwhile, Prerna’s patriarchal father has a great vendetta against her skating. When she comes home with a skating bruise, he tries to forcefully marry off his daughter to avoid taking care of her.
If you haven’t already guessed, the father is the obvious villain in this film, along with all the other men in positions of power (sarpanch, government officials and sports reps). They simply can’t comprehend Jessica or why she wants to build a skate park for these kids. The idea of an independent, unmarried woman leading an initiative is a foreign concept to them. Amrit Maghera has come a long way from playing ‘Jo’ in Netflix’s Angry Indian Goddesses, she plays Jessica with strong conviction, and it truly brings out the sweetness of her relationship with the kids.
The themes of caste and class are intertwined within the film’s plot and work well to depict what it’s like growing up in rural India. Other than separate water pumps, Prerna’s brother Ankush, who makes up for her coyness with his rambunctious nature, throughout the film tells the newcomers how upper caste kids aren’t allowed to mingle with him and his friends.
The film clearly has feminist overtones, even the solution to the skatepark dilemma comes from the local Maharani (queen), played by Waheeda Rehman who is convinced by Jessica’s motivations. She donates land for the skatepark after Jessica explains how her own privilege makes her want to give the village kids (especially the girls) a chance to dream and hope for better things.
The film could have easily turned into a ‘white saviour’ story, but seeing as the village itself had internalised despair and rigid norms, a half-Indian single woman seeking to connect with her late father’s hometown and in turn changing its fate, seems like a good way to go.
With beautiful soundtracks and impactful cinematography, the film ends on a great note. Audiences will pause the rolling end credits wishing for Skater Girl to be a true story*. You do not want to miss this slice-of-life film!
*National Public Radio (NPR) in the US reported that one of India’s top skateboarders from Madhya Pradesh Asha Gond claimed Skater Girl is based on her life. The 21-year-old told NPR that many of the incidences that occur in the film are things that have happened to her in real life.
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