Film sets usually die soon after a movie has been wrapped up. The set of the Netflix original Skater Girl has lived on and is producing sports stars. The movie, which revolves around a 16-year-old girl from a Rajasthan village who is introduced to skating through a chance encounter with a British-Indian woman, is leaving an entire skate park behind in Khempur, a village about 50km Udaipur. The sport changes her life in the movie, and the park is changing the lives of many other children in the village.
Since the movie wrapped in 2019, Desert Dolphin Skate Park has been the ground for training hundreds of village children to skate for free. Four kids from Khempur have gone on to represent Rajasthan in the National Skateboarding Championship in Chandigarh. A kid who was earlier considered “slow” took part in the competition and topped his district in Sanskrit. “He’s an expressive and creative child who just needed a catalyst to unleash his real talent and build his confidence. These kids who had never stepped on a skateboard before the skatepark was made were now in state jerseys travelling for the first time outside their villages to take part in a national level championship,” says Manjari Makijany, the maker of Skater Girl and also the daughter of Mac Mohan, who played Sambha in the movie Sholay.
The park has become a personal endeavour for Makijany and her producing partners, sister Vinati and husband Emmanuel Pappas. The family has set up a trust called The Living Grace Foundation to support the project. The organisation has been providing skateboards, safety equipment and training for free to the children.
Skater girls and boys from Rajasthan
Desert Dolphin Skate Park in Khempur sprawls across 14,500 sqft and was built by the crew of 100 Ramps, a Bengaluru skate park construction company.
Building a skatepark was not part of the initial plan for the filmmaker. “But we felt if we’re making a film on social change then why don’t we use this opportunity to make an impact for real. At the time, India didn’t have an international level skatepark of the calibre we had envisioned, so we set out to build one of India’s largest and most advanced skatepark that would play a crucial role in empowering the local kids and the community,” say Makijany.
While skateboarding entered the Olympics in 2021, it’s still been a novel sport back home. What drew Makijany to make a movie on skateboarding in the country? After deep-diving into the skating communities in different parts of India and the world, she realised that the biggest skate community project was in Afghanistan called Skateistan. “I was blown away by the impact that skatepark created in a war-torn region. How could something like skateboarding break through emotional, social and caste barriers, get kids into education, and give both adults and children an outlet for self-expression and creativity? I was inspired and knew I had to use skateboarding as a catalyst to tell a coming-of-age story of a girl who chases her dreams against all odds,” she says.
Zeroing on the location was no easy task. The filmmaker travelled thousands of kilometres through scorching summers to find the right location. While the vibrancy and picturesque backdrop of Rajasthan was one of the reasons they chose the state, they also wanted to pick a place where people would take to skating. “We had three prerequisites to lock a place: it had to have a rustic backdrop; have concrete roads so kids could skate, and there had to be over a thousand kids in and around the village so the skatepark could be beneficial to the local community after the film,” says Makijany. Khempur checked all three boxes for them. “The children of Khempur were some of the most creative ones we met—they had made makeshift skateboards out of wood and scrap material.”
The skating champions of the village are so talented that they are Makijany’s muse for her next documentary. “We feel incredibly proud of these kids and how they’ve excelled overall at school and in skating.”
Skater Girl releases on Netflix on 11 June. Desert Dolphin Skate Park is currently closed due to COVID.