There’s a bold picture playing at the London Film Festival this weekend. It’s called Margarita, with a Straw, fresh out of India and directed by Shonali Bose. A story of love, struggle, and escapism, Bose’s feature is not a subtle film, but it’s certainly a heartfelt one. And, most importantly, it’s effective.margarita
Kalki Koechlin stars as Laila – a hormonal, argumentative, yet curiously confident 19-year-old Delhi student suffering from cerebral palsy. An enormously admirable character, Laila displays a courageousness in having to deal with her disability, while also suffering the typical teenage self-consciousness that plagues even the healthiest adolescents. Her natural intelligence earns her an offer to attend a school in New York, and Laila – never one to let her condition get the better of her – heads west to embark on an adventure of social, cultural and sexual liberation.
Koechlin is spectacular in the lead role, but not just in her commitment to accurately displaying behavioural traits of a serious disability. True, she convincingly portrays the garbled speech and rigid movements exhibited by many sufferers of cerebral palsy, but it is her demonstration of emotional range within the framework of this challenging role that is so impressive. In one scene, she is left humiliated after a rock concert, and her reaction is so realistic it is utterly heartbreaking.
One of the film’s finest moments comes during a typical morning ritual, where Laila’s mother is helping her wash. The two tease one another in a typical mother/daughter way, before Laila confesses to her mother that there’s a boy in her college that she likes. He’s nice, he’s handsome, and he’s a singer in a band. Her mother’s face turns to stone. There’s fright in her eyes, terrified at the prospect of her daughter having her heart broken. It’s a scene that feels so authentic, expertly capturing the complexity of Laila’s attempt to be an ordinary adolescent. Revathy (as the mother) is wonderful in this short sequence.
Laila visibly grows along with the movie, making exotic discoveries that are both new and exciting, but threaten to drive a wedge between her and her family back home in Delhi. Bose juggles the delicate topics of bisexuality and disability with care, courage and conviction. Margarita, with a Straw is a strong piece of work that bridges western and Indian cinema with largely laudable success. VOTO: 4/5 (Gareth Lloya, theupcoming.co.uk)
Margarita with a Straw is an acting triumph. Kalki is amazing, imprisoned in a wheelchair but her spirit flying as she tastes the delights and dilemmas, from crushes to creative pushes, of a college student’s life. Giggling, crying, even masturbating, Kalki portrays Laila, charmer, bummer, winner, with unabashed perfection, cheekily asking a shopkeeper for vibrators, the man, thinking of mobiles, responding, ‘Maine toh apni wife ko bhi vibrator pe daala hua hai!’
Kalki’s matched perfectly by Revathi who shines as a slightly dull middle-class mom, stoically driving a van that evokes Hollywood’s quirky Little Miss Sunshine. Their mother-daughter love’s so strong, you can almost touch it, just as you can feel the electricity that frizzles angrily between them when they quarrel.
Some scenes are wryly funny – when Laila confesses, ‘Ai, main bi hoon’, her mother, tired of housework, crossly responds, ‘Main kya kam bai hoon?’ – while others evoke despair and hope in minutely-detailed settings.
The story is a breakthrough, portraying physical challenges with brightness, not bathos, and the direction’s super-sensitive – catch Laila’s eyes when she’s carried upstairs – yet going boldly where few filmmakers have. Some scenes discomfit – Laila and friend Jared (William) have a bathroom encounter – while others, like family dinners, karela joked over by Laila’s father and brother (Kuljeet and Malhaar, both quietly competent) soothe.
The script somewhat over-diligently ticks every possible ‘challenge’ box, mixed marriages to a Pakistani-Bangladeshi visually affected lesbian. But that small quibble aside, MWAS is deeply moving, a philosophical film which makes you wonder if the body is a palace or prison – and evokes mothers to lovers who’ve cherished your soul.
Try this Margarita – it’s different. (timesofindia.com)