I don’t often give out 9 stars out of 10 but ‘Skater Girl’ thoroughly deserves each one.
If, like me, you’re part of the South Asian diaspora, you’ve grown up watching Bollywood. I’m very used to the feel-good films, the corny-but-cute rom-coms, the classics with their high drama and soaring scores. ‘Skater Girl,’ though it has touches of tender romance, is not one of those films. It’s a film about a young girl, Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta), on the cusp of womanhood who wants to go to school, who is reaching out for something but also cannot see how she can leave her assigned path. Enter Jessica (Amy Maghera), a woman with hidden connections to the village. No spoilers but looking at the film’s title, I don’t think it’s too much to say skateboards ensue.
The clever part is that the skateboard is essentially another character in the film; Prerna’s Rosebud. When she skates, she is gloriously free, she is truly alive. The board is not a piece of wood on wheels, what it symbolises is far, far greater. The film’s brilliance is the way that skating, the visiting British woman and the village background are all interwoven such that, even over two hours, the story’s pace never languishes.
I’m avoiding all specifics as I want you to watch this film for yourself but I can say that this film moved me deeply. It hit nerves I didn’t know I had. A lot of this is due to the stunning performance of Rachel Saanchita Gupta in the starring role of Prerna. The joy, grace and fierceness she imbues into Prerna seem utterly natural, there’s never an exaggeration or needless embellishment.
The same could be said for all the cast, including the charming, chaotic gang of skater kids tumbling through the dusty village streets. Every person is perfectly used in each of their roles. The direction is flawless. It’s a testament to Manjari Makijany that she’s the producer, writer and cinematographer as well as directing this gem of a film. You really can’t get more auteur than that, which is evident in the aesthetic and narrative cohesiveness. We have shots that are pure poetry, we have tiny exchanges between actors that are novels. In particular, I want to give Makijany extra props for her direction of the little kids – I really haven’t seen anything this real and non-romanticised since Truffaut’s ‘L’Argent de poche.’
It would have been easier to have made a less challenging film, to have made the father a caricature villain instead of the complex, flawed man he is, stuck in his life like a fly in amber. The director could have elided the brutal reality of caste or of South Asian diasporic privilege. She could have made a more traditional, less realistic film. Or, conversely, she could have made a ‘gritty,’ Western-oriented film where Indians have no agency or humanity, they’re just poor, silly natives for white people to cry about before slipping into some cool new threads made by child labour.
The fact that ‘Skater Girl’ dodged those pitfalls but is still fundamentally a feel-good film about reaching for your dreams, about getting up every time you fall down is why I love it. It is witty, silly, passionate, provocative. If you have a heart not made of stone, it will make you laugh and cry.
It’s life, affirmed.