Manjari Makijany’s new film “Skater Girl” breaks much ground all at once. Not only is it her first feature, (she is also the writer and producer), but it’s the first film in India to center around skateboarding.
While you might think if you have seen one skateboard film you have seen them all, Makijany’s work in many way supersedes American skateboard films such as “mid-90s” or “Lords of Dogtown” that are geared for adult viewers.
No big name actors here as Makijany focuses on introducing young Indian actors who emit authentic emotions on screen. Her script is simple, a bit predictable, yet uplifting as the PG rating might suggest.
“Skater Girl,” however, also is an empowering story for young viewers, a humbling lesson in culture and could be used as a teaching tool by and for parents.
From London to a remote village in Rajasthan, India, Jessica (Amy Maghera) has arrived to make peace with her past. Seeking comfort in the place where her father was adopted as a child, she discovers local children in desperate need of inspiration. She asks a local teenage girl named Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta) what she wants to be or do when she grows up. The shy girl has no response to a question she has never thought about.
Jessica’s friend from the United States, a local teacher, skateboards into the village and the children are fascinated by his “bearing car.” Erick (Jonathan Readwin) teaches them about the skateboard, and the glow Jessica witnesses from Prerna, balancing on the skateboard, provides her with the purpose she was seeking. The elders from the village resent Jessica and the ever-changing modern culture, pushing back at the introduction of skateboards into the town.
“Skater Girl” might be Makijany’s first feature, but she is far from inexperienced. Aside from numerous short films, she has worked as second unit director on big-budget films like “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Wonder Woman” and “Dunkirk.”
“Skater Girl” is no thrills, all story and emotion, but it draws the viewer into a elemental story by humbling the viewer. The ending is a predictable triumph where the villainous male elders come around.
There also are unimaginative scenes like the overused trope where Prerna is humiliated in class for not having the proper school uniform and textbook. Still “Skater Girl” manages to drift past its downfalls by reimagining the coming-of-age sports film.
There is certainly an element of “Bend It Like Beckham” — just scrappier filmmaking. Its debut on Netflix aids accessibility to the audience needing it the most. “Skater Girl” is exactly the kind of constructive summer film parents can show their young kids and teenagers where value is hidden behind the entertaining plot.
The two young discoveries Gupta and Shafin Patel steal the show from actors with experience. By the closing credits, which you are encouraged to watch, you realize “Skater Girl” is more than just a film. The creation of the skatepark used in the film is now a permanent fixture for kids in the village where the film is set. So go get your heart warmed this weekend.
Final Thought: “Skater Girl” drops in as one of the most culturally rewarding family films to see this summer from the living room.