British band Wild Beasts’ newest video for their song, ‘Alpha Female’ turns the spotlight on Bengaluru’s women skateboarding community.
The last time a British band with white male members decided to make a video based in India, even Queen Bey couldn’t salvage it. But Wild Beasts’ newly released video for their song ‘Alpha Female’ from the album ‘Boy King’ gets it so very right.
To begin with, ‘Alpha Female’ is a catchy song and the lyrics, for once, don’t masquerade as ‘feminist’ or present a hedged, palatable version of ‘female empowerment’ or ‘girl power’. Instead, you’re treated to “I will not hold you back. Simple as that, yeah, ooh-ooh-ooh” paired with the visual of an Indian woman in a bright pink sari and gold nose ring gliding down a main road in Bengaluru, bemused men watching her from the sidelines. There’s little to misconstrue or misrepresent here.
And then suddenly, the camera’s following a young woman in a denim jacket, black cap and shoes weaving through busy traffic on her board; grabbing an orange off a cart as a fat policeman gapes openmouthed, hanging onto the side of a rickshaw to zip along on a wide street.
“Alpha female I’ll be right behind you”.
And then it gets better. Now there is a little girl going up and down the slopes of an empty skatepark at night in Bengaluru.
On a well paved road, surrounded by nothing, a large group of women in pink and blue saris on skateboards moves forward, saris flapping to reveal pants underneath the fabric, aviators glinting in the sun.
It honestly looks like the most enjoyable version of urban Indian womanhood I’ve come across.
The video’s director, Sasha Rainbow, told Dazed about why she chose to focus on Bengaluru’s women skateboarders, “Because of the current political climate in the west and attitudes of intolerance and sexism across the world, I wanted to create a video that celebrates everyone who takes the risk to be themselves.” Adding, “In places like Afghanistan, Cambodia, and India, skating has not been solidified as a male sport and therefore has had a massive cultural impact, teaching values about self-empowerment through skateboarding.”
The band’s singer Hayden Thorpe added, “Sasha told me that in India, time has a different quality,” continuing, “It slows down when you move through it, as if made of thicker stuff. The skateboarding girls and women in ‘Alpha Female’ appear to have found a sublime vehicle for slicing through time more quickly. They are in a hurry, speeding time up, pulling their generation along.”
The video’s appeal also lies in the band’s physical absence from it. No white men playing holi in ramshackle buildings, all of it portrayed in saturated colours, evoking a hyper-real feel as if India is an imaginary place. In contrast, this video shoots urban Bengaluru the way it is, in shadowy corners, inside sweet shops, residential areas, on busy main roads, on deserted highways.
The music itself hasn’t received a lot of love from reviewers with Pitchfork stating, “Boy King is by no means a disaster, but it is a disappointment,” but the Guardian going for a more ambivalent, “Too many songs sound like generic electronic rock.” The band, whose previous four albums have displayed eccentric wordiness, clearly pared down for this album. Something that didn’t get past the Guardian, “Five albums in – solidly good ones, never truly earth-moving ones – you get a sense that this Cumbria-via-Leeds band have decided to throw erudition to the wind and finally embrace knuckle-dragging rock piggery.” It’s true, the lyrics are simple and catchy, not erudite.
However, the ‘Alpha Female’ video is a triumph for 24-year-old Atita Verghese, India’s most prominent female skateboarder who features prominently in the video along with members of Girl Skate India and the Holystoked Skate Crew collectives.
For the last few years, Verghese has been promoting skateboarding around the country. According to Purpose2Play, In 2013, Verghese and the HolyStoked Collective worked together to build a skatepark in Bengaluru and also coordinated with other friends to teach underprivileged how to skate. In addition to this, they also taught their young students English, maths and photography. Then, they received funding from a German NGO to build ten more parks in other parts of India and five outside the country as well.
Verghese recently released a documentary of an all-girls skateboarding tour she did with 12 other female skateboarders from nine different countries. The group visited four Indian cities in 2015, travelling the country by bus to teach children about skateboarding.
The female skateboarders have more attention in store for them as Rainbow has decided to shoot a documentary about them. Paper magazine quoted Rainbow as saying, “The girls I worked with are an inspiration… I want to commemorate this incredible moment in India and show how massive cultural change can start with just one person.”
For now, it’s just nice to see someone get it right.