A boy takes a ride to his school by sitting on his “bearing car”, pushed by his sister. “Faster!” he shouts as if trying to race the wind. His sister obliges. Skater Girl, director Manjari Makijany‘s new Netflix film, opens with these images. The way she shows the exhilaration of this moment and the laughter on the children’s faces by introducing slow motion and upbeat music instantly hooked me to this film. The last time a film made me fall in love with it during its opening itself was The Half of It. If movies are magic, this magic could be surely found at the beginning of both The Half of It and Skater Girl. You sense joy, affection and sweetness, and these core feelings remains intact throughout Skater Girl (except for a few scenes, but more on those later).
As we slowly move further into the movie, we find out the names of that boy and girl. He is Ankush (Shafin Patel), and she is Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta). They hail from a remote village in Rajasthan called Khempur. No one explicitly mentions it, but this village is haunted by the caste system and other old-fashioned views that disparage women. Prerna’s parents don’t mind if she misses school. Forget going to school; they don’t think education is crucial for her. Like many women in the area, she is nurtured solely for marriage. Make that arranged marriage. Ankush, being a boy, enjoys all kinds of freedom, which Prerna has to steal for herself. He is openly allowed to ride a skateboard, but she has to keep it a secret.
The screenplay from Manjari Makijany and Vinati Makijany does not invent new wheels. Story-wise, you may have seen this template a thousand times before in many coming-of-age/sports dramas. The protagonist chases a dream, their family and the society interfere, a teacher-like inspirational figure galvanises them to follow their heart and, before the credits roll, everyone comes out in support of the underdog as they win the final match, implying to us that we should never give up on our aspirations. Cue happy tears. Skater Girl consists of the same old orientation, but this doesn’t turn into a drawback because it is loaded with wholeheartedness. It is a sweet sight to see a crowd of children standing in a queue to get a sketch of their toys from Jessica (Amrit Maghera). Pleasant, too, is how these kids request Erick (Jonathan Readwin) to show them some skateboarding tricks. Skater Girl is suffused with the kind of innocent charm that is usually not found in many modern films and is also commonly found missing in children’s movies. No wonder, then, that the biggest strength of this film is its depiction of these children. They light up upon seeing a sketch, a bundle of crayons, and then there is the skating board. To borrow a line from Roger Ebert’s review of Children of Heaven, “To see this movie is to be reminded of a time when the children in movies were children and not miniature stand-up comics.”
Skater Girl is set in a rural area, but it doesn’t turn into poverty porn. When Vikram (Ankit Rao) comments that people from all over the world come to catch the “view”, you understand what he is talking about from the sound of a cow mooing at a distance. The camera, however, isn’t interested in turning in that direction. The same can be said for Jessica and Erick. The interest remains in the people, and everyone and everything is concerned with them. The only dirtiness you will discover in Skater Girl is found within characters like Prerna’s father and an upper-caste school teacher. These screenplays show such characters in a singular villainous shade and then flip them as good people during the final portions. It would be better if they attempted to slip them gradually towards the magnanimous side instead of suddenly turning them for the sake of finishing the film on a positive note. While most of the scenes are delightful, some of them lose their appeal by being mechanical. For instance, you predict Erick’s skateboard will fall in the river, given the way Prerna rides it in that scene. Likewise, you prognosticate Prerna will get caught while handling the money or after coming back from a date with Subodh (Vinayak Gupta). But these bits do not hinder your enjoyment of the film. You feel happy when this girl takes flight and rises above the shackles of society. In other words, Skater Girl achieves what it sets out to do, and that is a compliment not many films are able to achieve nowadays.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.