Manjari Makijany’s directorial debut is inspiring but takes social change in its own hands
Rarely enough does it happen that a movie inspires the audience about a social evil but also takes action toward the deep-rooted gender inequality in India’s rural parts. A directorial debut by Manjari Makijany, Skater Girl, is a coming-of-age lighthearted sports drama out on Netflix. It centers around a bubbly band of kids finding liberation and happiness through skateboarding.
Written by Los Angeles-based Makijany and her sister Vinati Makijany, the story seems to be inspired by German author and activist Ulrike Reinhard, best known for building a skatepark in the village of Janwaar in Madhya Pradesh as a struggle against gender injustice. Driving a collective social action on a grassroots level, the skatepark built for the film’s purpose is now donated to the Khempur village’s kids, where girls are “encouraged to dream,” as the movie’s end title proudly announces.
Set in the remote village of Khempur near Udaipur in Rajasthan, the film shows a young Indo-Briton Jessica, played by Amy Maghera, who is tracing her father’s childhood past memories. She comes across a group of kids who find her and her gadgets very fascinating, and she, in turn, them. Awe-inspired by the children’s inventive makeshift toys out of rocks, plastic bottles and wires, she gifts them skateboards to unfurl their pent-up energy and ignite a sense of freedom. Thus, skateboard mania takes over the village as this group whizzes past locals bumping into clotheslines and fruit carts. “Doesn’t matter where you go in the world, everyone hates skateboards,” are Erick’s words (played by Jonathan Readwin) we hear midway through the movie as the villagers put up a protest against children living their dreams on their feet.
The movie takes on a two-way road with Jessica’s yearning to create a skatepark for the kids and Prerna (debutant Rachel Saanchita Gupta)’s emancipation from the shackles of gender norms. Despite countless hurdles, Jessica is able to build a skatepark on an empty piece of land donated to her by village matriarch Maharani, played by the iconic Waheeda Rehman, in a special appearance. What remains to be solved now is Prerna’s freedom from her father’s patriarchal cuffs.
Simply put in one word, Skater Girl is inspiring. In a village rife with gender issues, ancient social injustices and traditional practices barring any western influence, skateboarding as an approach to gender equality is a daunting task. The Makijany sisters barely skirt the White Savior Complex but masterfully drive Prerna to take responsibility for her own actions and choices. To me, the story is more about a young girl getting the opportunity to choose for herself for the first time in her life – and she chooses her freedom. Her skateboard becomes her magic carpet as she flies with her happiness brightly radiating from her smile.
The movie’s soundtrack is just as inspiring and energy-driven as the story itself. “Shine On Me” by the composer duo Salim-Sulaiman, Indo-American rapper Raja Kumari and The Voice Kids fame Mohd. Fazil has a happy climactic sound that drives the audience toward positivity. It also unleashes a bit of rebellion as Prerna finds her footing in her new world. “Maari Chalaange,” also composed by Salim-Sulaiman and sung by Sharvi Yadav, is a heart-warming change-driven song with a similar vibe to the hit Chak De India song “Baadal Pe Paoon Hai.”
Skater Girl is an exciting blend of childish innocence and iconoclastic rebellion. It is feel-good but also touching as many instances in the story replicate real-life situations, including the undertone of the caste system and the looming sense of strangeness expressed by the villagers against western influence – especially when gender equality comes into talks. The film expresses sensitive issues with care and nuance, eschewing romanticizing issues for creative expression. Performances by Gupta, Maghera, Readwin and Shafin Patel (who plays the little boy Ankush) were a good choice for the film. The ‘just-enough’ approach to storytelling makes Skater Girl a watch worth your time and can be the newest addition to your re-watch list.
‘Skater Girl’ is streaming on Netflix.