When life gives you lemons, make Margaritas! That’s what the film Margarita, With a Straw seems to say - find a way to live life as it comes.
The movie showcases the life of wheelchair bound college girl Laila, who has cerebral palsy but isn’t afraid of being among “abled” people. Wonderfully played by Kalki Koechlin, Laila is the pivot of her family as she makes them dance together, sings with her mother, writes lyrics for her college band and refuses to accept awards given to her just because she is “disabled”.
Speaking at a screening in Mumbai before the official launch of the film, Koechlin revealed how the movie had been a learning for her: “I realised the invisibility towards the disabled in Delhi vis-à-vis in New York where the roads are well suited to navigate a wheelchair."
"Being Laila became my muscle memory. I made it into a habit to be Laila, daily activities to cook, work on computer or go out...People stared at me, some would pity me and even infantalise me," she recalled.
Koechlin had confined herself to a wheelchair for two months doing her daily chores like Malini, the person on whom Laila is modeled. As Malini once told Koechlin as she stood up from the chair to go home: "That's the difference that at the end of the day, you can leave that wheelchair."
Writer-director Shonali Bose recalled that the script she had been working on for a year had been torn up and she re-wrote it following her son's birthday, four months after his death. "That's why it comes out honestly with not just pain but courage and beauty.”
Margarita, With a Straw is liberating in Laila’s portrayal of a person with cerebral palsy.
It speaks of challenges with optimism rather than despair.
And soaking it all in were the audience who sat spellbound right through the movie, credits and interaction with the cast and crew of the film.
Confined to her wheelchair, the protagonist Laila is largely dependent on her mother (played by Revathy) with whom she shares her crushes and rejections. Knowing her daugther’s vulnerabilities, the middle-class, modern mother is sensitive to her child’s emotions and allows her to follow her desire. She supports her ambition to study in New York, where Laila discovers herself and her sexuality. At a protest march in the foreign land, Laila meets a blind Bangladeshi-Pakistani activist, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), and falls in love with her.
The film traces Laila’s fiercely independent journey, seen when she gets angry with her mother for invading her privacy on finding her surfing porn or when she confesses to her girlfriend that she had been intimate with a man from her class. The movie also has its funny moments, like when she tells her mother that she is ‘bi’ (bisexual) and her mother reacts thinking she’s a ‘ bai ’ (housemaid).
The film handles intimacy without romantic illusions, in the sense it shows how 'normal' desire is. With simple cinematography, soft lighting and close ups, the audience is allowed to absorb the teenager’s emotions - love, sexuality and ambitions - irrespective of disability.
Bose’s first film ‘Amu’ dealt with the attacks on Sikhs in the 1984 Delhi riots.