What is the story about?
Prerna, the young protagonist, pulls behind her brother Ankush on an old tattered skateboard as he enters the house to study, while she is left tending to household chores. This is Prerna’s life, much like the other girls in the village who will be expected to supplement the household income before they can discover their dreams through education. Meanwhile, a Londoner named Jessica arrives at Prerna’s village, Khempur, to discover her own heritage. She and her friends, by a series of chances, introduce the village kids to better skateboards, and their lives are changed forever.
Director Manjari Makijany built a set in Rajasthan, India (the first skatepark of that region) especially for ‘Skater Girl,’ so that young kids of all backgrounds can enjoy this wonderful sporty activity together. While the story of the film is centered around Prerna, the character itself is modeled on the many girls (and boys) of that area, who will never be able to achieve their dreams or find the familial or financial support to even begin to try. Her father is shamed into sending her back to school from selling peanuts on the streets, but isn’t it a reality that what else is he to do, after being rendered so helpless by a system that doesn’t want to support its own people? Jessica, played by Amrit Maghera, is your typical (half-white) savior, one with all the money and the worldview to invest in Prerna’s future. Prerna's life, who slowly emerges as a local champion in the sport, rides on the fact that her dreams need to take precedence over her priorities (the climactic championship being on the same day as the girl is to be married off).
The reason I give no spoiler alert is that Makijany’s screenplay is both ridden with cliches and treads too lightly on the issue of caste in an area like Khempur, or villages like it. There are points where Prerna herself speaks about the segregation of basic amenities in the area between families like hers, and the upper caste (and royalty), the kids of whom intermingle in the same schools. But this is very lightly brushed upon in a dialogue or two. The audience isn’t unaware of the atrocities faced by Dalits in the country by the upper caste, but Skater Girl is busy talking about an antagonist within their own community, opting for a safer storytelling route. The film’s focus is solely on Prerna’s coming of age and that is half-baked as well as it is extremely scattered and lacks clarity.
We all love an inspirational story, and even beyond the predictable tropes and grave omissions in the screenplay, ‘Skater Girl’ is still extremely gentle in its treatment. The moments of the film that are the most heartening are when Prerna is skateboarding across her village, falling and tripping, and yet getting up again to emerge a winner.
The most winsome addition to the film is the central performance by Rachel Saanchita Gupta as Prerna, who shows a strong sense of defiance as well as a sincere charm, and a genuine excitement on the park. There is a balance to the performance and this young star gets to show off a gamut of emotions across the film. The rest of the actors play mostly on their likability and sincerity. But the film’s writing doesn’t do them or Rachel any justice, especially in the second half, when it becomes a bit repetitive and almost Bollywood - the same villains barking at Prerna and her kin, being tired obstacles instead of genuine atrocities.
Music & Other Departments
‘Skater Girl’ is shot extremely well, capturing the motion of the free-spirit of skateboarding. But there are issues in writing, pacing and editing that don’t allow for the film to match the momentum of its sport. The production design is quite intricate and realistic. There is usage of folk music to make the film feel more rustic, which doesn’t add much to its feel.
Most of the film’s actors are first-timers and/or young kids or locals, and to be able to extract these wonderful performances from them is an achievement in itself. The cast also includes a special appearance by veteran actor Waheeda Rehman, and that provides some gravitas to the sequences she is in. The performances really fit seamlessly into the narrative. In addition, Skater Girl is well-meaning in its intention itself, being an achievement that it can highlight such a story of such characters that are rarely shown on screen.
The savior complex of the film does little to nothing to add to the reality of the people on the lives of whom the film has been based. The film is ridden with cliches and tropes of the rags-to-riches sports film genre (especially that centered around a poor village girl in a patriarchal feudalistic society). The caste and class issue is barely one to be considered a grave injustice, and that makes the film seem incomplete and half-baked.
Did I enjoy it?
Partly. I feel the film’s central conflict lacked tension and that’s a major disservice to the young girls of rural India.
Do I recommend it?
I feel that the existence of ‘Skater Girl’ has its merits just due to concept. The genre itself is uplifting so there is no problem if you watch it. But the film could have very well been a short video or a documentary too. Average fare.