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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Movie Review: MARGARITA WITH A STRAW (2014) DIR. SONALI BOSE - NYIFF 2015

Image above: A still from Margarita with a straw with. (Image from official site)
 

This is a beautiful coming of age romantic story about a feisty and talented teenager confined to a wheelchair. She has cerebral palsey but refuses to be defined by her disability. Laila (Kalki Koechlin), a student at Delhi University speaks with difficulty and is hard to understand, and though she is extremely resourceful at maximizing her capabilities, she does need help to do many basic things. However, she does not let any of those obstacles keep her from feeling like a normal college girl. She writes music and lyrics for an indie band, is popular with her friends, is smart and funny, flirts with boys and has erotic fantasies. She is full of pluck and has an endearingly cheerful demeanor and disposition. Her ability to experience joy is not at all impaired and she seems to find it more easily than most of her able-bodied contemporaries. The title of the film refers to how she orders her first cocktail and is symbol of her determination to fit in. Just because she is unable to hold a glass and has to drink her liquids with a straw does not mean that she cannot have a Margarita with friends.

18699_790464834382719_5952019484890375668_n A still from Margarita with a straw with the actress Kalki Koechlin (Image from official site).

 

She has a male classmate who is also confined to a wheelchair with whom she has a quasi-erotic friendship. They experiment with each other much the way that adolescents do when they begin exploring their sexuality. But she prefers the singer in the indie band on whom she has a huge crush. When she reveals her feelings to the boy she fancies and is rejected she is so crushed and mortified that she finds it impossible to save face. She convinces her parents to let her take the scholarship that is offered from New York University for a semester in New York City. While there with her mother she adapts with startling alacrity to life in Manhattan.

11155049_790533684375834_3809770283899634325_oA still from Margarita with a straw with. (Image from official site).

 

Still she is obsessed with sex and how to have it. While she is looking for it in the usual places - she finds it unexpectedly along with love and tenderness when she meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a beautiful Bangladeshi girl who is blind. This unlikely pairing is handled with such delicacy and sensitivity that one never questions the truthfulness of it. As the story progresses we become so used to the fact of the girls’ disabilities that the plotting which follows seems no different than “normal” people, which involves Laila “coming-out” to her parents, infidelity, break-up and independence. Let me hasten to add - there is a great deal of humor in these episodes.

That such an unlikely love story could be plausible is accomplished by the extraordinary direction of Sonali Bose who grew up with a close cousin with cerebral palsey and has such empathy and familiarity with the condition that it allows her to feel totally comfortable and assured in her direction. Miraculously, it never traffics in sentimentality or feel good triumphalism. She handles all of her characters with affection and humor. Laila’s parents and brother are neither saints nor martyrs. They are regular people dealing with a challenging reality with compassion and love. The two leading actresses give such a tour de force of nuanced performances that one could be forgiven for believing that they had the disabilities of their characters. The accomplishment of normalizing those with afflictions could go a long way toward better understanding between the abled and the disabled. And, by the way, it never feels as if that is the message. It is not a polemic. It is a wonderfully simple story beautifully told.

10668908_801015676660968_2958435239616346531_oA still from Margarita with a straw with the actress Kalki Koechlin (Image from official site).

 

by Belle McIntyre

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