Director: Manjari Makijani
Cast: Rachel Saanchita Gupta, Amy Maghera, Jonathan Readwin, Waheeda Rehman
There have been films on sports, more importantly on women players – Chak De India, Dangal, Saina and Mary Kom, for instance. So, Netflix’s latest outing, Manjari Makijani’s Skater Girl set in a remote Rajasthan village loses a bit of sheen on this count. But where it scores is the way it highlights how an absolutely new sport like skateboarding arrives there and the mesmeric manner in which it captures the imagination of children, who think of novel methods to build a skateboard. And it seems just about brilliant when a teenage girl, Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta), pushed by her desire to speed along mud roads, takes to this game and turns it into a way of life and also a point of dissent and defiance. It may appear a little exaggerated when she runs away from her own marriage to take part in a competition. But well, an important prerequisite for watching a movie may be suspension of disbelief. Or, so it would appear.
The script written by Makijani and her sister, Vinati Makijani, allows a few diversions on the skateboarding route, like how women are still considered “unclean” when they are menstruating and how men feel it is demeaning to allow their wives, sisters and daughters to work outside home, however grinding their poverty may be. But, in a classic case of male hypocrisy, Prerna’s father while talking big about how his daughter should not indulge in any sporting activity, lets her sell peanuts in the market!
The story veers towards Londoner Jessica (Amy Maghera) after she in arrives in the village to learn about her father’s early life. When she sees Prerna using a rough kind of skateboard, Jessica and her boyfriend, Erick (Jonathan Readwin), begin encouraging the teenager and other village children – who all end up creating a ruckus with their sport. There is disharmony in the village, and the men feel perturbed at the idea of women taking to their wheels, so to say, and toppling the patriarchal applecart.
Makijani actually built a set resembling a skateboarding ring in the village to shoot her film. The ring now offers free services to all those children enamoured of skateboarding. So, in this way her work would be remembered long after the the movie has faded from public memory. (We still remember the Mouth of Truth in Roman Holiday into which Audrey Hepburn pushes her hand! Do we not, and the movie opened in 1953, and the two stars, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are long dead.)
Makijani’s gesture is invaluable, and she does manage to give us a simple story of a simple girl – played with admirable ease by Gupta – who dreams of flying and does this in a delightfully charming manner. There are a few rough edges in the technical department, but if you ignore these, the work will strike a chord with you.