By Neha Kirpal
In Manjari Makijany’s directorial debut feature film Skater Girl, a teenage tribal girl in Rajasthan discovers skateboarding after a British-Indian girl introduces the sport in a village.
Not only does the film tackle various social stereotypes, its filming in Khempur, Udaipur, in 2019, also led to the creation of Rajasthan’s first and, at the time, India’s largest skatepark spanning almost 15,000 sq ft. It remains a public skatepark facility for children and visiting skaters.
Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer Manjari has previously won awards for her short films, The Last Marble (2012), The Corner Table (2014) and I See You (2016). Daughter of yesteryear Bollywood actor Mac Mohan and cousin of actor Raveena Tandon, Manjari began filming Desert Dolphin (2021), aka Skater Girl, a narrative feature film written by her and her sister Vinati Makijany, in 2019.
In this exclusive interview, the 34-year-old filmmaker talks among other things about the inspiration behind Skater Girl, her childhood influences and her upcoming Disney film Spin.
What prompted you to make your directorial debut feature Skater Girl? What was the inspiration behind it?
I love exploring simplicity in stories. To me, they transcend borders and cultures. For my debut feature, I wanted to write a universally relatable story so that every girl watching my film could be inspired to dream and challenge conventions.
So, when the rising skateboarding movement across India caught my attention in 2017, my sister (co-writer/producer) and I did a deep dive researching skate communities in India.
We were fascinated by discovering skateboarding thriving in Madhya Pradesh, Kovalam, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. And not all of these places had skateparks, some just had skate spots.
I found that skateboarding’s novelty value was thrilling and gave children confidence and a sense of achievement in these communities. I interacted with skaters from across India and many teenage girls in rural Rajasthan to write something original yet authentic.
During our research, I met a teen girl in Khempur and her story was similar to so many girls we met. She was married off at a young age and didn’t have a chance to pursue her dreams, or even dream actually.
I knew we had to make a skatepark in a new place and I was sure children would take to it. And of course, the intense and challenging experience of building Rajasthan’s first skatepark inspired a lot of moments in the film.
What is the message you want to give viewers through the film?
One of hope and inspiration. I hope the viewers aren’t just inspired by Prerna’s journey, but find a connection to their own self and inspiration to follow their dreams. And in these times when everything can seem so grim, I want this feel-good film to be a breath of fresh air.
I also hope it shines a light on all the skate communities that are doing some amazing work across India. Many of them aren’t very well known but are doing some incredible work with underprivileged communities.
For instance, the Kovalam Skate Club initially started the No School No Skate rule in 2014 which encouraged many kids from the fishing community to go to school and then skate. The Kolkata Skateboarding that has their ‘Warehouse on Wheels’.
Tell us about the challenges you faced while building Rajasthan’s first and India’s largest skatepark, and how did you overcome them?
Initially, we hadn’t planned on making a skatepark but it dawned on me that if we are making a film on skateboarding and the social impact it can have on a community, why don’t we consider building a skatepark.
I remember when I told Emmanuel and Vinati, the producers, about this idea, they were silent for a moment but thought it was a great decision. It was a very ambitious decision as we were a small indie film but we took it as a challenge and personal commitment.
100 Ramps, a skatepark construction company in Bengaluru, led our skatepark construction work and assembled a local and international build crew. We went through a lot of what Jessica does in the film. At first, the village found it hard to understand why we were doing this but they were happy to be employed on the project. Building in a remote village during the monsoons was a logistical nightmare!
However, despite construction delays thanks to monsoon rains, the 14,500-square-foot skatepark was built in 45 days. It’s a free community skatepark. Children are taught and provided skateboards and safety gear at no cost.
Though most of them naturally picked it up, we’ve done a few skate and art workshops for them. We also have volunteer programmes running under The Living Grace Foundation to provide continued support for the children at the skatepark.
Currently due to the pandemic we’ve shut the skatepark temporarily to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
Tell us about some of your biggest influences growing up as the daughter of actor Mac Mohan.
We never really hung out on set or went to any filmy parties with our father but we did accompany him to Prithvi Theatre often when he had his shows and became associated with Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) early on.
Our first job while still in school was being backstage assistants on IPTA plays. From carrying actors’ slippers to sweeping that magical stage that transformed with every play, we were trained from scratch. The theatre background really grounded us.
Tell us more about your other upcoming Disney film Spin about a relatable Indian American teen whose journey of self-discovery empowers her to embrace her true talent of making music.
It’s Disney Channel’s first Indian American story that follows Rhea, a relatable Indian American teen whose journey of self-discovery empowers her to find her true love – creating and producing beat-driven music infused with her South Asian culture. It was an exciting opportunity to introduce our Indian culture to an American audience through music.
I also had the opportunity to work with Marius De Vries (composer, Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge) and bring on Salim-Sulaiman to do an original song for the film. Projects like these that allow me to bring the best of the two worlds together is very exciting.
There’s also Abhay Deol and Meera Syal in the film with Avantika as the lead. The film will be out soon.
Apart from films, what are some of your other hobbies and interests?
I have way too many hobbies… from pottery to candle making, perfume making to distilling essential oils and studying about aromatherapy! I love working with my hands and creating things when I’m not making films.
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