Skater Girl (2021)
IMDb rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 89%
Skater Girl is set in semi-rural India (Hindi, English subtitles), in a small village. Teenager Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta – an unfortunate name for South African viewers, shame, but it’s one of the most common in India) is of a lower caste from a poor family.
When tourist Jessica (Amy Maghera) arrives from London on a quest to find out more about her late father – not a critical plot point – she befriends Prerna, buying her a new uniform so she doesn’t get ridiculed at school. Then Jessica’s friend Erick (Jonathan Readwin) swoops in on a skateboard (they connected on social media and found out they happened to be in the same remote part of the world, what are the odds) and all the children in the village lose their collective minds.
At this point, the film feels still contrived and stilted but luckily it rises above that in the latter part. Our sweet, shy heroine, along with her mother so firmly under her father’s rule, takes to skateboarding with nervous enthusiasm. It’s not easy for Prerna to take chances, but she does eventually, confronting her fears – from her parents’ shame to dropping in.
Jessica and Erick are enchanted with the children’s enthusiasm for skating, and buy them all boards (suspend your disbelief for how quickly the courier delivers the package). Some of the residents and officials in the village disapprove, however, and consider this all a terrible nuisance brought about by the meddling foreigners in their midst. The next logical step is for Jessica and Erick to build a skatepark.
And this is where Skater Girl takes on an almost documentary tone. Writer and director Manjari Makijany and the producers decided to build Rajasthan’s first and India’s largest skatepark in Khempur (incidentally where The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was filmed). It took 45 days (shown in time lapse in the film), and it remains for skaters to use, both pros and amateurs, which is a pretty cool legacy. The children of all ages practising for an upcoming competition, and their mentors, are beautifully natural, although there is still drama playing out as Prerna’s father prepares to sell her into marriage.
These themes of how women are treated and traded like chattel – Prnerna’s mother, for example, accepting her life of servitude to her husband – are not to be overlooked; they make the message of empowerment, freedom and transformation all that more powerful and uplifting.
“The metaphorical power of skateboarding is an effective storytelling tool, particularly in coming-of-age movies like Skater Girl, where skateboarding is awesome and fun in and of itself, but it’s also awesome because of what it provides. Skateboarding is not so much a road to fame and fortune, but a literal open road, where you can have an undiluted experience of freedom, independence, and mobility,” says rogerebert.com.
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