Margarita With A Straw is an Indian drama directed by eccentric filmmaker, Shonali Bose. It stars Kalki Koechlin as a teenager with cerebral palsy, Bose had said that her cousin Malini Chib, who is a disability rights activist, inspired Kalki’s character. The story follows Laila Kapoor (Kalki) as she relocates to America for her undergraduate education and the conflicts she faces as she comes of age.
The story begins as we’re introduced to this seemingly normal family, living in a modest Delhi apartment. Laila, who is the only daughter of the family is loved by everyone. She goes to college, has crushes on boys and in her free time dreams of orgasms. On the surface, it looks like any other teenage story, but the twist here is that Laila has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound.
As the film begins we are informed that Laila’s heart belongs to the lead singer in the college band. But when she learns that he doesn’t reciprocate the feelings, she is left devasted.
To Laila’s luck, the universe has a plan to mend her heartbreak. She receives a scholarship to study at a university in New York, much to her parents’ dismay. She somehow manages to convince them. She and her orthodox Maharashtrian mother, Shubhangini Damle move to Greenwich Village, Manhattan.
While in Manhattan, she is overjoyed by this new experience and flirts, watches porn, explores her sexuality and makes out with pretty much everyone she’s attracted to.
Two big factors to watch this film are Shonali Bose’s storytelling and Kalki Koechlin’s incredible talent. Bose’s take on a depicting a girl with disabilities as normal was widely applauded. She also does justice to the love scenes which otherwise could have been shot in a coy manner but instead, she shows it for what it is and will make you feel affectionate towards the lovers onscreen.
Bose also expertly shows the contrast between how people with disabilities are treated abroad as compared to India. This is evident by the wide availability of wheelchair-friendly spaces in New York and the lack thereof in India. Bose also emphasises on how life becomes easier abroad for a person with disabilities as there is a lot more empathy and acceptance for them.
Kalki Koechlin shines in the role of Laila. The way she is able to mimic the physicality and movements of someone with cerebral palsy is admirable but what’s truly incredible is the way she shows the expressions with such honesty. She is fantastic at striking a balance between vulnerability, confusion and adolescent determination. It doesn’t feel false for a moment. Her performance was widely applauded by the critics.
The film’s script seems to falter in places, so much so that a veteran actress like Revathy struggles to give her character some credibility. Revathy, who plays Laila’s mother. She is someone who has always taken care of her. The strength of their relationship is shown through scenes of the mother-daughter bonding scenes which seem to be awkwardly written. At one point, Revathy is put in a spot where she must decide whether to keep seeing Laila as a child who needs her or as the grown-up woman she is. What could have been a defining moment in the film, turns sour as Bose decides to throw Revathy out of the narrative.
Laila’s physical capabilities also seemingly change throughout, the girl who once fell off her wheelchair, if moved from her back support is eventually shown sitting upright without any support. The script also doesn’t question her lack of motor functions when she’s having sex. Her physical capabilities also seem to improve just as she begins to flourish, the girl who couldn’t hold her head straight is seen nodding her head happily in the second part of the film. It’s ironic that just as Laila begins to ascertain her identity, her appearance begins to change and she starts to look lesser-differently abled.
Margarita with a Straw is centred on the idea that a person may be limited by their disabilities but is not constrained by it, the film fails to follow through on this, as Laila’s physical abilities, very subtly yet noticeably improve just her story gets better.
On the whole, Margarita with a Straw is a film made with love and a stellar performance by Koechlin, but you can’t help but feel that Laila deserved better.
Check out the Trailer for the film here:
The film is available for paid viewing on Youtube.