EXCLUSIVE | Director Manjari Makijany, actor Amy Maghera share how 'an idea' turned into 'Skater Girl'
The duo also discussed why the movie will create curiosity about skateboarding among the people
Skateboarding is one of the most famous sports in the world and has been thriving in countries like the USA, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, and Australia for many decades now. However, some of the countries are now trying to get hang of it. One such country is India, where skateboarding is trying to create its own space and to help the sport in reaching greater heights, filmmaker Manjari Makijany is coming out with a Netflix movie titled ‘Skater Girl’.
The movie is not just about the sport, it also tells the story of how liberating sports can be for a community. ‘Skater Girl’ tells the story of a teenage tribal girl named Prerna (Rachel Sanchita Gupta) in Rajasthan, India who discovers skateboarding after a British-Indian woman named Jessica (Amy Maghera) introduces the sport in a village. It also talks about how a girl breaks all the barriers to learn the sport and inspires everyone to achieve whatever they want to.
But, making a sports film is never easy and requires a lot of research and some of the movies like 'Basketball County: In The Water' or 'Athlete A' can be proof of that. So, how did Manjari overcome all the obstacles to make such an inspiring movie?
MEAWW caught up with Manjari Makijany and Amy Waghera to discuss various aspects of the movie and why they feel people will be inspired after watching the Netflix film.
What inspired you to tell the story of ‘Skater Girl’?
Manjari Makijany: So, I discovered that skateboarding was thriving across India and I also came across various skate communities to interact with hundreds of boys and girls who are skating in India because I was unaware that skateboarding was creating such an impact. That’s really inspired me about what skateboarding could do and then I also found out what was happening in Afghanistan with skateboarding and then what was happening in Africa. I realized that there is a universal theme here about how skateboarding can break a lot of barriers and be very liberating. So, that became a very inspiring sort of germ idea of what skateboarding could do.
With time, Jessica and Prerna establish a rare bond. You are a teacher, a mentor, a friend and a guide to her. Your role has quite a few layers. How did you prepare to play such a complex character?
Amy Maghera: There were a lot of different ingredients that went into creating Jessica. With her backstory of why she was there in the first place and what took her to the village and her bonding with the children. I was very much inspired by both, Vinati Makijany (co-writer) and Manjari, who had been in the village for a long time. Obviously, they built the skate park to combat monumental challenges. I was very much inspired by their stories and what they really went through in real life. So yeah, there was a lot of research and absorption of the village life, lots of learning about skating and why people love it so much. It was a fascinating journey for me.”
This is your first feature film, how would you say it's different from the short films you have directed?
Manjari: Directing short films and then getting on to direct my feature debut was sort of an organic process. I started off as an assistant director, so I’ve been on sets before. It just felt really natural to be directing, I didn’t think about it too much while filming that ‘oh, this is my first film’ and ‘this is sort of different’. But, I think it is definitely challenging in the sense where it’s not just a film you finish over three days and a few months. It’s something that takes years to create and then, a long time to release to the rest of the world. This film has been four years in the making. From when I discovered skateboarding in India to writing the script and then building the skate park and production, then post-production, and then the pandemic hit. And finally, the film is going to release. I think the only difference is that it teaches you a lot of patience.
'Skater Girl' is a special film, but what would you say sets it apart from the sports films that have been made over the years and why?
Amy: I guess, I’ve really never thought how the movie is different from all the Bollywood sports movies. I think, ‘Skater Girl’ is original and unique. This is India’s first skateboarding movie and when people see it, they’ll get to know that the movie is really unique.
Manjari: We’ve had a few sports films in the Indian film industry and they all do exceptionally well because there is something universal about conquering your fears and getting all the courage to succeed against all the obstacles. So, I think this universal theme about it very appealing and then you put skateboarding into the mix which is so unconventional, especially in India. The novelty value makes this movie unique. It’s a film that has humor, it has drama and a lot of emotional and inspiring moments. It is an entertaining film and yes, it is India’s first skateboarding movie and I hope, people watch it and get inspired and connect with the themes in the movie.
COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. If not for COVID-19, we would be watching 'Skater Girl' in theatres. Do you think releasing it on Netflix eases the box office numbers pressure?
Manjari: Pandemic or no pandemic, having a Netflix release is definitely exciting for a film like ‘Skater Girl’. It is a movie with no big Bollywood stars and what’s really leading the film is the story and the characters. So, when an independent movie like that gets a Netflix release, I mean, you’re gonna be watching it in 191 countries across the globe. And I don’t think a traditional distribution model would be able to do justice to this film. It would be way too risky to have that same kind of launch.”
Could you elaborate on Rachel Saanchita Gupta and her role as Prerna? How would you say was your time sharing screen space with such a young talent?
Amy: She is so inspiring and so hard-working. She is a very talented actress and I absolutely loved working with her. She’s so sweet and I had a blast shooting with her. We still stay in touch even now.
If you had to mention 2 takeaways from your experience filming 'Skater Girl', what would it be and why?
Amy: “I feel very fortunate that I got to play Jessica, not only because it is an amazing role but also because I got to go to a part of India that I’ve never experienced before. I lived in Mumbai and I never got to experience village life. So, a big takeaway for me would be just seeing how people live in the villages and even if they don’t have very many monetary things, people are so happy and they have time, I mean, coming from the city where everyone is on a rat race and chasing stuff, it felt so amazing to be amongst that where people were more happy and more content.”
'Skater Girl' is wholesome, there's no denying that. You have blended a handful of genres to make a beautiful film. How did you manage that?
Manjari: I wish. I mean, the writing process was really challenging and Vinati, who’s my sister and co-writer and producer on the film, wrote the film together. The germ idea was the discovery of skateboarding in India and the kind of movement it was creating. And then, how do you take that germ idea and create a wholesome film that is entertaining, has drama, has sports, and more subtle themes. It was a year-long process for us to write the film and we went through about 20+ drafts in getting the final script before we went to shoot it.
When the movie comes out, it will be placed in the elite list of sports movies that we have seen in the Indian film industry with movies like ‘Lagaan’ or ‘Iqbal’. Is there any pressure on you that your movie will be compared to such classics?
Manjari: No, I didn’t even think about it before you mentioned it but I like it that you mentioned ‘Skater Girl’ with such classic films. I do hope that people will give this movie a lot of love and truly enjoy the movie. It’s great that everybody will now get to know that skateboarding is thriving across India. That would be nice to introduce a new sport to the mainstream cinema audience.