TIME magazine was spot on when it said, in a recent review: “In Netflix’s tender and exhilarating Skater Girl, a shy Indian teenager takes flight on a board with wheels.” The pair of skates is almost metaphorical, the message being that of emancipation from hardline social prejudices with the aid of an unlikely catalyst: girl power.
Prerna (essayed wonderfully by Rachel Saanchita Gupta) is a teenage girl, living in a tiny village near Udaipur, Rajasthan. She has a cute, empathetic little brother (a brilliant Shafin Patel, you want to hug him whenever he comes on screen), a kind but reconciled-to-fate mother and an overbearing, misguided father. She’s impoverished, though not particularly unhappy. She longs to go to school regularly, and is loathe to accept the fact that she will have to follow in her mother’s footsteps — get married young, have kids and cook and clean for the rest of her life — while she goes about life helping out with household chores and trying to sell peanuts for her dad’s failing business.
The high point in Prerna’s life are the moments when she rope-pulls a rough board with wheels fitted under it, and her brother sitting on it; a ‘bearing cart’. Whenever she does that, the wheels seem to give her wings. She feels free.
Into her life, and the village’s in general, enters Jessica, a London-based, English-speaking advertising executive who lands up to connect with her “roots”: her father — adopted at an early age by a rich businessman — was from the same village. Soon, Prerna and Jessica become friends, and the latter gifts her, and some of the other village kids, skates. Jessica is joined by her American friend Erick, and all of them form a deep and effervescent bond, as Erick teaches them all to be ace skaters on beaten paths of the village.
The rest of Skater Girl dwells on how life changes for Prerna — in her head and heart (there is a sweet whiff of inter-caste teenage romance set into motion with the help of a pair of skates) — and whether or not she will manage to break away from old-age notions of traditions (including her impending marriage) that had shackled her so far. And meanwhile, the village gears up for “India’s first skateboarding competition” in a new skate-park built with some help from the local royal family matriarch (a cameo by an underwhelming Waheeda Rehman).
Lagaan’s feel-good — the triumph against ‘adversity’ — factor was firmly enmeshed in the most popular touchpoint of the Indian psyche: cricket. Skater Girl, on the other hand, dares to veer off the beaten track to embrace a sport that’s relatively unknown in the context of its setting. I don’t know how popular skating is in India. My guess is: not at all; at best, it’s perhaps a niche domain of rich kids in urban pockets. And yet, the skating gets the adrenaline flowing, unifying many notes of discord with a single flip.
At one level, Skater Girl is simplistic — to the point of being oversimplified. But therein lies its beauty as well: it proves empathy is all you need to counter polarisation in unspoilt, “innocent” terrains. Yes, it may gloss over certain “realities”, but you want to go along with the hurrahs for the sake of the ride. Along the way, there will be many lumps in your throat and a definite amount of exhilaration.
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