Kamali is a Bafta-nominated short about a seven-year-old skateboarder challenging gender roles in India
This poignant 24-minute film is a unique glimpse into India’s societal structure and how things are changing for its youngest generations.
Nominated for a Bafta in the Best British short film category, Kamali follows the story of seven-year-old Kamali, the only female skateboarder in a small fishing village Mahabalipuram, India. Directed by Sasha Rainbow, the 24-minute film sheds light on the young skateboarder, redefining gender roles amidst the backdrop of a rapidly changing India.
Kamali is the youngest of three generations of women living together in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. And the poignant film is a unique glimpse into India’s societal structure and this pivotal moment in time which sees the youngest members of families embracing change and disrupting the status quo of a historically rigid, caste-centred country.
Having recently found the courage to leave an abusive husband, the film follows Suganthi (Kamali’s mother) as she embarks on a pilgrimage of self-discovery and, in turn, the first separation between mother and child. It’s a narrative that struck a chord with the film’s director Sasha, who tells It’s Nice That: “Kamali’s mother’s story resonated with me so much as I am an immigrant with a refugee mother and have always been conscious of how much of my existence is due to the hard decisions that were made by my family before my time.”
Sasha first encountered Kamali and her undeniably impressive skateboarding skills through an image of Kamali taken by Jamie Thomas. At the time, she was working on a music video for British band, Wild Beasts. The video focused on the burgeoning skateboarding movement in India and, while researching the subject, she “stumbled across this image of a six-year-old Indian girl in a dress, barefoot, speeding down a ramp on a skateboard.” Sasha and her team then managed to contact Kamali through her surfer uncle – who is also “a major influence in Kamali’s life” helping to bring her up with an understanding of gender equality – and in turn, Kamali and Suganthi left their fishing village for the first time, travelling to Bangalore for the shoot.
“I’ll never forget Kamali’s face the first moment she stepped onto the huge skatepark to greet us and the shift in energy that happened to us all,” recalls Sasha on their first encounter. Then, soon enough, the family was starring in a documentary short about themselves, welcoming Sasha and the crew with open arms and sharing their innermost emotions. “So much of this film was due to the willingness of Suganthi to be vulnerable and honest, which was so brave on her part,” adds Sasha. Capturing the ins and outs of the family’s daily routine – school, shopping at markets and so on – the film sheds light on what life is like on the other side of the world, and most interestingly, the generational differences between young and old.
Originally intending to make a feature film “hugely inspired” by Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, a film about race relations in New York on one of its hottest days, Sasha set out to document the contrasting views towards Kamali’s family in the fishing village. “We knew from having already met Suganthi that the village was opposed to her allowing Kamali to skate, and that the family were fairly ostracised because Suganthi was a divorced woman,” explains the director. But when they arrived in the village, they found the opposite: “People behaved as though they were very supportive.” As a result, the film became more intimate and about the family; a mother empowering her daughter who then inadvertently empowers herself in the process.
Now that the film’s production is over and the nominations for awards are pouring in, for Kamali and Suganthi back in India, things have also changed. The community are now “truly proud” of the family and the young skateboarder is teaching other girls how to skateboard. “I can’t wait to chat over a beer with her when she gets a bit older and hear her memories of making the film!” says Sasha, who is also hoping to raise funds for a bigger skatepark in Mahabalipuram. Other than these future hopes, in another turn of events, Sasha finally goes on to say: “I’m secretly hoping Kamali will be made into a feature Bollywood film, with dance sequences and all, like a combination of the doc and the music video I first made.” And to us, that also sounds wonderful.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.