“Skater Girl” is a pleasant “feel good” Indian drama played in a minor key.
It’s sort of a Westernized look at income disparity, lingering “caste” culture and sexism, as it tells the story of an Indian woman raised in London who comes to see the problems of the tiny village of her family’s past as solvable by teaching the kids to skateboard. We see the impact even this tiny bit of joy and “freedom” has there through the eyes of a poor teenage girl who finds herself and her ambition on a board.
Newcomer Rachel Saanchita Gupta is Prerna, a gawky teen who has outgrown her school uniform, but that’s just as well because her family keeps her out of school, making her sell peanuts in the nearby market town, cooking and keeping the house. School is now where she drops little brother Ankush (Shafin Patel) in the morning.
Prerna can’t win for losing. She’s kept out of school, but her stubborn brick-maker dad criticizes her inability to sell peanuts, and lashes out in misguided macho pride whenever her mother suggests other jobs she could do to help support the family. Prerna shows up at school after a teacher berates her for skipping. Too poor to have a textbook? He then humiliates her in front of the class and it’s back to skipping school.
As is the way of such films, a visitor from the Progressive West then shows up and changes her life. Jessica (Amrit “Amy” Maghera of TV’s “Hollyoaks) rolls into the village on a bus, checks in at the modest internet-advertised hotel and wanders the place, looking for vestigial connections. She is struck by the memory of how “one small step” changed her and her family’s fate.
Seeing the “bearing car” Prerna fashioned for her little brother gets her attention. It’s essentially a homemade skateboard. The abrupt arrival of a convenient American-who-knows Jessica, Erick (Jonathan Readwin) allows her to make the connection. He brings his skateboard, shows the kids a little, and next thing you know, Jessica has equipped all the kids, in all castes, with skateboards.
But that won’t change Prerna’s predestined life of grinding poverty and menial labor, or her fate to be married off too-young before she can do anything to improve herself. For that, they’ll need to think bigger.
The amusing things in “Skater Girl” are the way the Westerner accidentally imports anarchy the moment she introduces the children of Khempur, Rajasthan to skateboards. She’s not just “disrupting” these kids’ life paths, she’s upending businesses, dinging the public peace and giving the kids something they’d rather do than attend school.
She’s remaking this town in the West’s image, and the locals are soon in a tizzy over that, as you might expect.
“Doesn’t matter where you go in the world,” Erick cracks, “everybody hates skateboards.”
The blowback is both predictable and still disheartening in an amusing way. But if the kids go back to school they can learn how to impose change the way the father of their country did. WWGD? What would Gandhi do?
There are plenty of cute bits in director and co-writer Manjari Makijany’s film. The skating might be remedial, strictly low-speed, low-skill set shredding.
But that’s the point. Introduce it, get the kids hooked and they’ll never be content to scrub floors or tend fields again. It’s a “small thing” but it could change this village and the kids in it in ways far beyond the inevitable scars from their many inevitable falls.
MPA Rating: PG, corporal punishment, mild profanity
Cast: Rachel Saanchita Gupta, Amy Maghera, Shafin Patel, Jonathan Readwin
Credits: Directed by Manjari Makijany, script by Manjari Makijany, Vinati Makijany. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:47