Bhurelal is barely 10, but his dreams are big. The resident of Rajasthan’s Khempur village aims to be an international skateboarding champion, and his journey has already begun. It’s a wonder to learn that Bhurelal was selected to represent the state at the 58th National Roller Skate Championship 2020-21, given that until three years ago, he had never even heard of skateboarding.
He stepped outside his village for the first time, but didn’t let his nervousness take over. He put on a good show in Mohali, Punjab where the championship was organised by the Roller Skating Federation of India (RSFI).
For Bhurelal, the Desert Dolphin Skate Park is his world, which he conquers daily by throning the skateboard. Whether it’s the frontside 180, kickflip, or power sliding, the young boy glides around as smoothly as melting butter on a pan.
His eagerness and enthusiasm to learn an alien sport and own it like he has been doing this for aeons is something that shows clearly in other children of Khempur as well.
Take, for instance, Kusum, who is in her teens. She was one of the first girls in the village to step on the board and attempt this unknown sport. She transcended gender barriers and even inspired other girls to learn.
If today the children of this village can acquire a new skill, spend time constructively and make their families and state proud by participating in skateboard championships, it is all thanks to two sisters who decided to make a film in Khempur in 2018.
Manjari and Vinati, who are daughters of yesteryear actor Mac Mohan, constructed a sprawling 14,500 square feet park in the village for the shoot. The beauty of the park is that after the filming was completed, it was given to the aspiring skaters to practice.
“Usually, filmmakers prefer a set that can be dismantled once the movie is over. But here we were making a film on how a rural girl can do wonders if the right opportunity and platform is presented. So it made sense for us to replicate the same in real life as well. We took the necessary permissions and constructed the park in five months. During that time, local children were curious to know more. So we started imparting lessons way before we started the shooting process. Needless to say, we took local children in the film and they found a career they can explore,” Manjari, director of the film tells The Better India.
The sister duo helps us connect with the children via a video call. It is fascinating to see the children ace every move with so much confidence. The young skaters share how skateboarding has impacted their lives.
Through their NGO, ‘Living Grace Foundation’, Manjari and Vinati have been providing free training and skating equipment to these kids for three years now. Over a hundred children, of which 35 are girls, have undergone the training.
Initially, parents refused to send their kids to learn, fearing that they would break their bones or be severely injured. This was worse for girls, as the mothers believed it could put marriage prospects at risk. After much convincing and assurance, the endeavour began with a handful of children.
Getting rid of shyness and fears was the first visible change in the village. It was probably the first time that girls and boys began mingling with each other at the skating park. Here, no one saw caste, gender, age or any other labels, and instead helped each other improve.
Vishnu Banjara (15) and her brother, Shaitan (12) started learning skateboarding together. While their mother was apprehensive about sending Vishnu, she came around eventually after seeing her daughter perform so well.
“Several girls like her faced resistance. I remember a girl who really wanted to do it but couldn’t because her marriage was fixed. Fortunately, due to girls like Kusum and Vishnu, parents are allowing their girls to learn the sport. The best part was watching young girls be unafraid of getting hurt or falling. These girls are raised with so many restrictions, but once they step on the board, they unlock freedom,” says Vinati, who wrote and co-produced the movie.
A similar change was seen among the boys as well. They had never seen women filmmakers calling the shots or their own sisters being fearless.
“I wasn’t sure if girls could skateboard or even participate in any other sports. It is nice to see them doing activities apart from household chores. Skateboarding is like a gift we have received and I hope to make India proud in future by going to other countries for the sport,” says Bhurelal.
Meanwhile, Shaitan, who was one of the four boys to attend the championship in Punjab, says he was ecstatic to visit another state. “I was away from home for the first time but seeing the outside world made me happy. I love spending my free time skateboarding.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes have been put on hold, but the NGO will soon resume its activities and invite international skaters to conduct workshops. They hope to prepare girls like Kusum and Vishnu for national championships this time around.
Edited by Divya Sethu