The short film, Kamali, directed by Sasha Rainbow, based on the life of now 10-year-old skateboarder girl from a village in Mahabalipuram, has been nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, and has also been longlisted for the prestigious Oscar Awards. Sheer excitement filled me when I saw the film’s poster featuring a female skateboarder.
For many of us, Mahabs means beaches, resorts, great food and a weekend getaway. For many like Kamali and her mother Suganthi, it is also their home, where they live in a little village. Less than 50 km from one of India’s metros, these villages are interspersed with luxury villas and beach houses of the rich and the famous — a dichotomy that prevails in our country. As a single mother, Suganthi works twice as hard to make ends meet, while facing a lot of scepticism and criticism from those around her. She tells me that she had and continues to have a hard life, as our society is often cruel to single mothers — offering judgement instead of empathy or help. Suganthi asked me if I had a happy childhood, which was when I realised many of us take our childhood for granted, and goes on to add, “I didn’t have that growing up, and I want my children to have it,”. The mother’s words are beautiful, yet gut-wrenching.
“I was introduced to skateboarding five years ago by my uncle’s friend and was gifted my own skateboard. People started teaching me little tricks with the skateboard and I have been having fun ever since. I love the skateboard because it feels like I can fly when I’m on it,” little Kamali says. When in Mahabs, one tends to spot several young boys skateboarding and a lone Kamali holding her own. “I hope other girls join me and realise how much fun skateboarding is. Even when they want to join, their parents don’t let them practise much saying they will tan, or get hurt, and that girls should stay safe at home,” she adds.
Kamali, who is flying into the skies on her skateboard, along with Suganthi’s support, is getting the locals to question their mindsets that dictate that only boys should be allowed to have fun and girls should stay at home. Suganthi asserts that she wants parents to feel the same joy they’d have if they have a girl as they’d do for a boy. She regrets that she didn’t have much education, but with quiet dignity, says that life has been a great teacher. “If I had a husband, they would celebrate my decisions, but as a single mother, people say I’m foolish and that I’m spoiling Kamali. I have faith that both my children will be happy and successful, and that’s all that matters to me. I’m with Kamali on her journey. My aim is to nurture her dreams, instead of foisting my unfulfilled ones onto her. I want her to grow up without being shackled by the social norms in our village. I want her to have the same freedom that any little boy will have,” Suganthi says. The wisdom and tenacity in Suganthi make even one conversation with her feel like one is reading Paulo Coelho.
Neither of them are aware of the BAFTA or the Oscars, but Suganthi asks if these nominations mean more people will learn about Kamali’s story. “Even if one other family encourages their daughter to pursue her dreams and chase her passion, I would be happy,” she smiles. Kamali, on the other hand, is enjoying the company of other young girls skating with her. “The skate park outside my house, where I practise for two hours each day, was almost knocked down by a restaurateur. His daughter, who is my friend now, was bitten by the skateboarding bug and convinced her father not to go through with it. Now, we skate together when she is free and have fun,” says Kamali.
Kamali’s skateboarding journey so far represents the kind of future I want to live in — filled with little girls chasing their dreams and finding happiness, with supportive parents backing them. There is a sea of generational change happening in our country and our beloved city, but it cannot be possible without supportive mothers like Suganthi.