<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Shonali Bose. Starring Kalki Koechlin, Revathi, Sayani Gupta, Kuljeet Singh, William Moseley
Margarita, With A Straw is a delight to watch simply because of Kalki’s performance, which makes you smile with her and feel sad with her.
Director Shonali Bose (Read our interview with her and the rest of the crew at TIFF 2014 here) used her sister Malini – who has cerebral palsy – as inspiration while directed Kalki in the film. We’re immediately introduced to Laila (Kalki) who has cerebral palsy, lives in Delhi with her loving mother, father and little brother. She writes lyrics for her college band and is curious about sex and her own sexuality. She tries to be ‘normal’ and fit in, experimenting with her physically challenged classmate and then falling for the healthy lead singer in the band. She wants a regular life and doesn’t see why her physical challenges should impede her needs for love and physical gratification.
Her mother Aai (Revathi) is her primary care giver and confidante. She wants the best for Laila, which is why when her daughter gets a letter to study at New York University she is only too happy to follow her there and get her settled in. Little does she realise how much Laila has grown up in spite of her childlike needs. Crushes on boys and girls follow and how Laila and her mother deal with these new delights and tribulations form the body of this emotional and quirky drama.
In her adventure in New York she meets a visually disabled girl called Khanum (Sayani Gupta) who takes a liking to Laila that’s a bit more than just friendship. At first, Laila is confused and doesn’t know how to react but she soon takes to Khanum and ends up moving in with her. She figures she’s bisexual and she can even flirt with the cute boy Jared (William Moseley) who helps her with her classwork. This of course, doesn’t lead to the happiest of situations.
Yes, there were those people in the audience chuckling a bit when the love making scenes between Laila and Khanum transpired. They’re probably just uncomfortable. 99 per cent of the men in the audience have probably fantasised about some hot girl on girl action so you could call the snickering a bit hypocritical but as a society, we Indians tend to be pretty much like that.
When Kalki smiled or laughed I felt like smiling or laughing. When she was upset, I was upset. Such is the evocative nature of her inimitable face and features. It’s pure joy to watch her be so natural and full of life. I would think she is deserving of plenty of awards for her performance and hope to see that happen.
There were little things that bothered me like how she was in a wheel chair but could get up – with assistance – and dance. She had to be bathed by her mother but then ends up helping to wash her mother’s hair. She has to use a straw for her margarita due to her motor disability but can use a mobile phone without much fuss. Cinematic liberties perhaps that jarred my analytical mind since we’re so accustomed nowadays to poke holes in stories. But this didn’t mar my viewing experience.
Margarita, With A Straw is a marvellous little coming of age film about a girl who may appear to be different but is far more normal than most of us who like to bury all our desires beneath veneers of ‘normalcy’.