Skater Girl Movie Review: An uplifting, even if superficial, sports film
Though burdened with its cliched, unidimensional characters, Skater Girl's core concept and spirited performances make it a pleasant experience
We know how sports films end. We know they are about the protagonist surpassing odds. More the challenges, more impressive, the final hurrah. But we watch, not for the destination, but in the hope that there will be some novelty injected into the journey. Where is it set? What sport is played? What are the hindrances? How do they arrive at the uplifting ending? Interesting answers to these questions determine our response to a sports film. A worthy addition to the ever-growing list of sports films is Netflix’s latest original, Skater Girl.
Director Manjari Makijany’s film is about Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta), a young Dalit girl in Khempur, Rajasthan, who finds skating to be the answer to questions she didn’t even know she had. At one point, Jessica (Amy Maghera), who plays the half-Indian, London-based white saviour that brings skating into the village, says, “Girls in this village don’t even know what they want to be in the future because no one asked them that question.” Once Prerna and other kids in the village taste the exhilarating freedom of having wheels under their feet, there is no looking back. They are burdened by poverty, caste, patriarchy, bureaucracy, and more, but those fleeting moments when they zip through village lanes, put a smile on their faces. It is this saccharine goodness that helps the film rise past its superficial exploration of pertinent issues.
Cast: Rachel Saanchita Gupta, Amy Maghera, Shafin Patel, Jonathan Readwin
Director: Manjari Makijany
Streaming on: Netflix
Within minutes of meeting Prerna, we see the kind of oppression she and her community face on a day-to-day basis. There are segregated water pumps in the village. If she is asked to clean the corridors of her school, her brother Ankush (Shafin Patel) and his friends are forced to take turns to clean the toilets. While these scenes do give us a rundown of how things work in the village, we find that there are no major hindrances from the villagers about these same kids being authorities in skating. It is impossible to believe that the powerful UC families of the village, who don’t allow their children to mingle with “them”, allow the spotlight to shine on these Dalit children. This angle is glossed over in the film. Worse, it feels like a plot device than a pertinent issue.
With things falling into place for Jessica’s proposed skate park, her friend Erick, being at the right place at the right time to teach the kids, seems a bit too convenient, but we look past it. We make this allowance because of the spirited performances. The spunk and unabashed screen presence of the cast members make up for the missteps. Each of them shine, especially Ankush, whose innocence comes through in his dialogues. His outlook on life is a reflection of the freedom he believes he deserves.
Another telling choice of the makers is the decision to tell the story of just one family in this village. However, this results in unidimensional characters with stereotypical character arcs. We know what will happen when the dad, who wants to get Prerna married instead of fanning her dreams, sees her skate for the first time. We know how Prerna’s mother, a domesticated woman, would react to her daughter harbouring such dreams. However, with well-made sports films, these cliches work.
In Amole Gupte's Hawaa Hawaai, we saw a young boy in a city take up skating to escape his reality. Here, we see oppressed children in a nondescript village using the skateboard as a brief escape from their realities. As Prerna succinctly sums it up, “Skating is something that feels like mine. There is no one to control. There are no rules to follow.” For those few minutes on that board, she is free off the odds stacked against her in life. For 110-odd minutes of its runtime, Skater Girl wants us to go easy on its surface exploration of the life of these children. It's easier said than done, but the film does contain many pleasures.