‘Kamali is a symbol of the potential young girls have when they are allowed to follow their passions and play,’ says Sasha Rainbow, the director behind the documentary on the nine year old skateboarding star from Tamil Nadu, Kamali Moorthy. The little girl shot to fame last year when the world saw her skateboarding skills shared by skateboarding champions Jamie Thomas and Tony Hawk. The viral picture of Kamali set into motion a series of events that brought Sasha to Kamali and her mother Suganthi finally propelling her to make a documentary on the mother-daughter duo.
Its a story filled with heart and hope. The beauty of their relationship is the reciprocity of empowerment and courage as the two women rise up to the challenges of the patriarchal society and dismantle it. Their triumphant journeys together is an important testament of what happens when women break free from the shackles of a prejudiced society and do not conform to rigid ideals of womanhood.
The documentary has been incredibly well received by film festivals worldwide. It recently won Best Short Documentary at Atlanta Film Festival, qualifying the film for the Oscars 2020.
Excerpts from our conversation with Sasha follow:
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you towards filmmaking?
I am a New Zealand born filmmaker who has lived away from home for 14 years. I never studied film, as I didn’t know that’s something one could do as a job! I tried lots of things such as fashion styling, art directing and taking photos but nothing quite flowed. It wasn’t until I fell into directing that I realised I’d found what I loved - a practice that fulfilled all my interests that was ever changing and independent. I also realised that ever since I was a child I had gravitated towards documenting things, so it was actually me coming back to my natural love for something, but it took a long journey of trial and error to get to that point when you recognise you’ve found what you were looking for.
Kamali in a still from the documentary.
How would you define your filmmaking sensibility and which filmmakers or movies have influenced it?
I think my filmmaking sensibility is something slightly hyper real. Like you take reality and smash it together with your imagination and see what happens. I grew up watching a lot of musicals like The Wizard Of Oz, The Sound Of Music and loved films like Water World. I guess these kind of movies addressed important social subjects in an interesting and entertaining way!
How were you led towards the story of Kamali and what made you want to make a documentary on her?
I cut my filmmaking teeth through music videos, and after 4 years of this, I knew I wanted to start to tell more stories with impact. I didn’t know how to make the jump, so thought a documentary music video would be a good start, and I decided to film the female skateboarding movement that was growing in India, which I was going to document on the side. It wasn’t exactly going to plan, but Kamali and her mother arrived a few days before the end of the shoot after I saw a photo of her Jamie Thomas took. They stayed with us and it was very apparent after spending time with them that I needed to go back and make a film about their relationship.
Can you take us behind your creative process of making this documentary?
Once I knew I wanted to tell a story about Kamali and her mother, I spent a lot of time researching the themes I thought would come up, the situation on the ground, and other films that might be of use to inspire how we approached the visuals and tone of the edit. Then, we tried to pre-empt as much as possible what the story might be, and who the characters might be. I think with documentaries it’s a lot of preparation, and then you just have to let life happen!
Suganthi in a still from the documentary
Kamali’s mother plays a crucial part in your narrative? Could you tell us more about her significance in the documentary?
If anything, Suganthi, Kamali’s mother, is the driving force of the film. She takes so many risks in order to create opportunities for Kamali, who is a symbol of the potential young girls have when they are allowed to follow their passions and play.
What transcends in the film is the unexpected influence Kamali ends up having on her mother, who realises that in order to be a good role model for her daughter, she must also empower herself.
What kind of challenges did you face while making this documentary?
This was an independent project so there we constant challenges, whether it was budget, language, or, perhaps biggest, time restrictions. But really I’d say the hardest part was going into it without a lot of experience, but I came out more empowered then I went in, so I think it was a great shared experience for everyone.
I personally found the choice of music and songs playing throughout the documentary really amusing. Was there a specific reason behind choosing the songs that you’ve used?
We chose the music to create a timeless feeling, by linking it to the past with pop references that reflect the idea of societies approach to love and femininity as well as juxtapose it with hard modern sounds that remind us what moment in time the film is set.
Kamali Moorthy and Sasha Rainbow
The film has been travelling to many film festivals, as have you, and recently won the best documentary award at the Atlanta Film Festival. What has been your experience been like at these film festivals and what do you hope the viewers take away from this documentary?
Yes, we won Best Director at the Mumbai Shorts International film festival and Best Documentary at Atlanta Film Festival and were nominated for Best Documentary in Palm Springs. It’s been incredible after almost three years of hard work to see people responding so well to the film. I think Suganthi’s story is a universal one in that she is about a person taking back her power. I hope she inspires anyone stuck in destructive relationships to feel confident to walk their own path. I hope it shows how positive it is for everyone when we let girls play and explore.
Lastly, what’s next for you?
I am now working on a book adaptation of a true story called Jack and Rochelle about two polish Jews who fall in love in the forest when forced to flee the Nazi’s in World War 2.
I am also writing my own narrative fiction feature based on my personal history that I hope to have in development by the fall.
Text Nidhi Verma