Movie Review: ‘Skater Girl’ (Netflix)

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Netflix’s latest release ‘Skater Girl’ is a fictionalized story of multiple female skateboarders across India, according to writer and director Manjari Makijany. Upon closer inspection though, it is clear that the filmmaker was heavily inspired by Asha Gond – a skateboarder from Janwar who discovered her talent at an experimental skatepark built by German social activist Ulrike Reinhard. Perhaps it is an unofficial biopic then.

Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta) is a lower-caste teenager from a small village called Khempur, living as she is told.  She is bright and curious with very little opportunity to indulge her inquisitive spirit. One day, her paths cross with Jessica (Amrit Maghera) – a half-Indian, British visitor disenchanted with her life back home. Along with her friend Erick (Jonathan Readwin), Jessica introduces skateboards to the children, and suddenly a spark is lit in the whole village, including within Prerna and Jessica herself. The village adults, however, are not happy.

‘Skater Girl’ is full of precious moments of the children bonding with their skateboards, even if the narrative doesn’t quite hold up. It all starts quite predictably with some mild poverty porn, a dash of white guilt, and goes more or less where you expect it to end up. The inspirational messaging feels cheesy and formulaic. The exploration of all the topics the film touches – caste, poverty, stifling societal norms – is surface level at best. Problems resolve just as quickly as they arise out of thin air. But the children are precious. You can feel their spirit in the way the scenes are shot. Among the chaos of young boys experimenting with their first skateboard is the bright light of Prerna’s soul taking flight, which Rachel Saanchita Gupta embodies perfectly. She is the pillar of the story and the reason the film remains engaging despite its downfalls.

It is hard to hate a film like this though, especially when it practices what it preaches. The team of ‘Skater Girl’ donated the skate park they built for the film to the villagers after wrapping up shooting. Children on skateboards – that is where the heart and soul of this film lies. And when ‘Skater Girl’ focuses on them, that is where it soars too.

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