A film review by Craig J. Koban June 25, 2021


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.  

Marking the 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 compellingly layered. 

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 from.   



Seeing the 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.   

But, sure, SKATER GIRL ends with the aforementioned/obligatory "big" contest at the end for Prerna to display her newfound dominance in the sport.  And, uh huh, the film traverses down some extremely well worn genre territory (young and impressionable hero beating odds, hyper protective fathers that are doing more harm than good while the hero's on this quest, other outside forces that impede her journey, the "big" match...and so on and so on).  SKATER GIRL is not without its tired clichés, to be sure, not to mention that at a very short running time its overall perspective and investigation of small Indian village life might be a tad too superficial to be considered absorbingly deep.  Having said that, I sure was taking in with this film's underlining message of how a sport can cleanse the souls of those it possesses and leds to tangible and substantial change in young peoples' lives for the better.  The final end credits showcase the film's skatepark being erected in the village, and it still stands and has become the largest of its kind in that country, which is used by kids young and old, professionals, and for competition.  And seeing the wide smiles of these real children fully enamored with skateboarding in this montage moved me.  SKATER GIRL shows the transformative power of sport on the minds and spirits of today's youth, and even though viewers can pretty accurately predict the story beats from a mile away, the film's heart is as pure as they come for the genre.  

  H O M E