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Movie review 'Margarita with a straw': This one calls for a repeat

Published Apr 17, 2015, 1:50 am IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 10:58 am IST
The film becomes extraordinary because it treats its subject as ordinary

Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Kuljeet Singh

Director: Shonali Bose


Run time: 101 minutes  

Rating: 4 stars

The beauty and strength of Margarita With A Straw lies in that you cannot put a label on it. Is it a film about coping with disability? No. Is it a film about exploring one’s sexuality? No, not even that. Is it like a PSA that educates one about a certain condition and thereby underlines a cause? Hell no. It only tells a story, about a teenager, who throws tantrums, who has crushes every now and then, she has a libido like any other girl her age, she’s doesn’t stop herself from exploring her sexuality or pleasuring herself. Oh and she has cerebral palsy.

Director Shonali Bose treats her subject, Laila (Kalki Koechlin), with a great deal of love, but never gets over-protective of her. Just like Laila’s parents in the film, played by Revathy (in one of her finest performances) and a very aptly cast Kuljeet Singh. Clearly, the wheelchair bound Laila is not your everyday protagonist, except that she is. She even has a few things going for her. She has a way with words, and writes for her college rock band. She has parents who have raised her to be independent; she has the right kind of peers she studies with and goes to the movies with, and sometimes also goes vibrator shopping.

Cinema is seldom known to have put together ‘disability’ and ‘desire’. In common perception too, disabled people are seen as somewhat asexual. Shonali’s Laila is anything but. In fact, now and again she comes across as a horny teenager, who’s not afraid to try out new things, like a smooch with Dhruv, (Hussein Dalal) her other wheelchair bound guy friend, a fling with Jared (William Moseley) another cute guy in her class in NYU and eventually a more long lasting same-sex relationship with Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a blind, firebrand student activist, who is a fellow student at NYU. And she even enjoys a mean cocktail, no prizes for guessing the name. Laila is exploring the world around her, just like we all do when we enter college. We make new friends, we try alcohol, if we get lucky, we lose our virginity. So does Laila, her wheelchair never comes in between.

But that’s also because Laila has a mother as brave and strong willed as Shubhangini (Revathy) who’s the centre of her universe (and vice versa) and does everything from bathing her to driving her around in a matador. Few films have so intricately explored the many layers of a mother-daughter relationship. From Laila’s bath-time confessions, (Aai, ek ladka pasand hai) to her meltdown moments, fighting for her privacy when her mother finds out she has been watching porn, these moments are so honest and everyday, like any other mother-daughter talk, under perhaps slightly different circumstances. Laila’s heartbreak is Shubhangini’s heartbreak. There’s a scene where she clutches her Aai tightly and completely breaks down after being politely rejected by a boy in her band. There are no tears in Revathy’s eyes, but the look on her face is so full of pain, that tears would be redundant. Clearly, one of Revathy’s finest acts on screen. Then the time when where Laila tries to come out to her Aai, telling her, ‘Ai main bi ban gayi hoon’ could well be one of the most insightful yet funny coming out scenes ever. One could watch the film for just that.

Had Kalki been slightly lesser known than she is, she would have been mistaken as a person who actually has cerebral palsy. The actress becomes Laila on every level, physically, right from the speech slur to the body language, and emotionally, in her vulnerability and a little wickedness, to her smartness and her insight. It’s near impossible to not slightly overdo a character like this, but this actress doesn’t even make it seem like a lot of work. It’s a triumph for Kalki and Shonali that Laila never evokes sympathy for even a second, no matter the kind of tragedy that hits her.

And that’s where the film stands out. It becomes extraordinary because it treats its subject as ordinary. The intimate scenes are filmed delicately; the dialogues are smart but never draw attention to them. The supporting cast delivers just right, there are moments when Sayani overdoes her angst, but overall she fits right in.

When a film that has a disabled character at its centre, calls itself Margarita With A Straw (and not Chhoone Chali Aasman, as suggested by Taare Zameen Pe’s Aamir Khan), you know nothing regular is coming your way. This cocktail is a must-try. And you might just ask for a repeat.