2021, PG, 108 mins.
Amy Maghera as Jessica / Rachel Saanchita Gupta as Prerna / Waheeda Rehman as Maharani / Shafin Patel as Ankush / Anurag Arora as Mahesh / Jonathan Readwin as Erick / Swati Das as Shanti
Directed by Manjari Makijany / Written by Manjari and Vinati Makijany
The inspirational/overcoming all odds sports genre has been done so literally to death that I've frankly become numb to the prospects of seeing yet another example of it. I was pleasantly surprised, though, but Netflix's SKATER GIRL, which changes things up considerably based on its character and geographical focus.
feature film directorial debut of Manjari Makijany (who previously worked
on multiple high prestige projects as a second unit director on DUNKIRK,
WONDER WOMAN, and THE
DARK KNIGHT RISES), this film plays into the basic conventions of
the coming of age sports drama, to be sure, but it's set in a remote
village in India and follows a young teenage girl that tries to buck
tightly held family and tradition status quos by exploring her newfound
love for skateboarding. On top of being a genuinely uplifting tale of athletics as a
form of escape and therapy, Makijany's film also tackles the microcosm of
this village and what it's like to live as a girl in India while facing
all sorts of pressures about resisting societal status quos about what
girls can and can't do. The
arcs feel familiar here, but the ideas and themes presented within are
And like all
great sports films, SKATER GIRL pitch perfectly captures the meet-cute, so
to speak, between an adolescent and the sport that will soon consume every
fibre of her being. And for
Prerna (a vibrant Rachel Saanchita Gupta), discovering the joys of
skateboarding becomes more than just a newfound adoration of something
new; skateboarding becomes a vessel of pure escape and freedom for her,
and on multiple levels. But
before this happens in SKATER GIRL, we see Prerna's pre-boarding life in
her village in Rajasthan, which seems a million miles away from everything
and is driven by tightly coded traditions that are obsessively guarded by
her father, who has a very strict perspective of what's to be expected of
his daughter as she approaches young adulthood.
Like a beacon of hope arrives Jessica (Amy Maghera), and Indian by
birth that lives in London and works at a posh creative agency, but has
returned to the village to seek out her deceased father's birth place and
come to grips with her past. When
Jessica arrives all of the village children - including Prerna - seem
unavoidably drawn to this newcomer's radiant charm and interest in them.
Jessica becomes a
new friend and confidant to Prerna, who appears authentically interested
in her well being and future, which surprises Prerna, mostly becomes she
and her family live in such abject poverty that the thought of any bright
"future" seems distant and remote.
Most crucially, Jessica asks the shy and introverted Prerna what
she wants to be when she grows up, which leaves her grasping for an
answer. Sensing an
opportunity, Jessica decides to ask her friend in Erick (Jonathan Readwin)
for some assistance in sparking the village kids' interest in something
outside of their tightly regimented family bubbles.
He shows up with her one day at the village carrying a skateboard,
and all of the kids seem incomparably drawn into this strange device's
vortex. Jessica then hands
out skateboards to the youth, and within no time it becomes the it-factor
thing for these kids, with Prerna in particular allured in to it after
some initial trepidation. It
soon becomes a passionate love affair for her that she can't break away
unbridled skateboard fever that sweeps the village, Jessica opts for a
daring and audacious plan: She wants to build the kids their very own
skateboard park so they can live out their wildest fantasies to partake in
their new cherished pastime, but she faces a considerable amount of uphill
opposition from many adults and parents in the village, most of whom see
the kids boarding through their streets as a total nuisances the needs to
be stopped. While Jessica
tries to impossible of nabbing the required funding to make this park a
reality, Prerna faces a different type of arduous challenge when it comes
to keeping her new hobby a tightly guarded secret from her domineering
father on top of challenging societal gender norms, which are clearly
suffocating her. "Skateboarding
saved my life," she pleads at one point, and she's so invested in it
that she begins to set her sights on competing in the National
Skateboarding Championships, but fully understands that she's going to get
aggressive pushback from her regressive minded father, which could capsize
her boarding ambitions forever.
SKATER GIRL is
probably more intriguing when it hones in on themes outside of its sport
in question, namely how Prerna has to tackle so many issues conspiring
against her in her quest to live and skate freely.
Makijany's script (which she conceived with her sister Vinati) wants
to capture the sport's intensifying popularity in India, but it also wants
to tackle the larger theme at play of the expectations of women in sport
(or, out of sport) in this village culture. Prerna's father is stubbornly tunnel visioned in his
rejection of her Prerna's new interests, which he feels is for boys and
boys alone. You really grow
to feel for Prerna in SKATER GIRL: She's not just trying to train herself
and become a champion at the obligatory big climatic third act match, but
she's also trying to win the larger battle of overturning the pressures
that young and poor village girls like her face in India.
Unlike most other sports dramas, SKATER GIRL becomes less about
winning in her sport than it does about winning in life and becoming a
more fully actualized and confident woman that has opportunities vastly
open up for her.
I admired so many
of the details presented here too, like how Prerna's journey is mirrored
by Jessica's tireless crusade against local parents, business people, and
tradition in general to get the capital to get the skate park built in the
first place. It's not easy
for Jessica, which requires her to gain local allies where there are
virtually none. She
eventually is befriended by a wealthy villager (Waheeda Rehman) who sees
worth in her cause, but also empathizes as a woman when it comes to the
dogged resistance that she faces in her pursuit.
Of course, the village initially institutes a ban on boarding,
which becomes very unpopular (in a very ironic move, the kids start
peacefully protesting through the streets to end this ban, being
influenced by their school's teachings of Gandhi...slick!).
When cooler heads do prevail and that park is erected, it's like a
lightning rod of positive change for everyone.
Skateboarding morphs from being something cool and fun to do for
these kids and into something larger, leading to seismic changes in norms
and attitudes about its worth. And
for Prerna, it's a magic ticket out of her tightly sealed and controlled
home, and it couldn't be more rebelliously euphoric.