"You just gave those kids skateboards, you have disrupted everything”, says a character in Manjari Makijany‘s Skater Girl. As a tool of social change, breaking caste and gender barriers as well as giving wings to a young girl’s dream to break away from shackles, the skateboard literally changes a whole village in the film. It also feels more authentic and sincere when we end with montages of actually kids of Khempur village, where the film is shot, skateboarding. The Desert Dolphin skatepark wasn’t just a film set dismantled after the shoot was over, but it is a permanent construction open to the public, thereby upholding the positive message that the makers want to convey. And it's probably this sincerity and intent that imbues the film with a warm and fuzzy feel.
The storytelling is simple and devoid of great melodrama, yet it rings true and never compromises on the artistic integrity of the narrative. A young teenage girl Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta) might have the most joyous smile that she flashes looking at a skateboard for the first time in her life, but she knows her fate is sealed given her circumstances. Her parents can't afford to send her to school, and when they are shamed into doing so, are unable to buy her books or uniform. Prerna's mischievous younger brother (Shafin Patel) struts around, oblivious to the situation. Their lives probably would continue if not for a glorious stroke of serendipity. London-based Jessika (Amrit Maghera) lands in the village for two weeks, and she and her friend Eric (Jonathan Readwin) introduce the kids to skateboarding.
There is disapproval, a little drama, lots of tears but all is well that ends well. The dusty lanes teeming with enthusiastic kids scuttling around trying to find their balance on the boards warms the heart. And Waheeda Rehman in a special appearance is such a luminous and commanding presence that we can’t help but feel totally invested .
Manjari and Vinati Makijany’s screenplay is strictly devoid of dextrously incorporated melodrama and twists, but the emotional depth is profound . The casting and performances, irrespective of how big or small the roles are, keep the proceedings buoyant. Rachel is very good as the dutiful daughter daring to dream big, but little Shafin is a show stealer. And even though one wishes for a more convincing backstory when it comes to Jessika’s trip to the village, Amrit Maghera’s empathetic portrayal makes her an impressive addition.
A different hand pump for upper-castes, an unsaid social hierarchy which when challenged is frowned upon, the unfairness of gender discrimination all are woven in deftly. Some of it might feel rushed, but Makijany’s ability to conjure up real feelings and make us care enough for a young girl’s dreams is what eventually stays with us, along with Salim-Sulaiman‘s music.
Our rating: 3 Quints out of 5