Margarita With A Straw: A beautiful mind in a disobedient body

A still from the movie.  

It is difficult to give your undivided and critical attention to a film when your eyes are constantly welling up with tears. Not tears of pity or sorrow — the disability rights movement in India and abroad, which has emphatically embraced the slogan of ‘No Pity’, has no need for your sympathy, thank you very much — but tears of utterly indescribable joy at the joie de vivre that Laila, the ‘disabled’ protagonist of Margarita, exudes despite her frustrating motor impairment.

That’s the emotion that director Shonali Bose (of Amu fame) elevates you to in this fictional narrative of Laila’s self-discovery and exploration of her bisexual identity, inspired by her cousin (a well-known disability rights activist). But it is really Kalki Koechlin, playing the role of Laila, who makes the character come alive and induces us to fall ever so gently in love with her.

Margarita With A Straw
Director: Shonali Bose
Genre: Drama
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Hussain Dalal
Storyline: A young woman with a motor impairment embarks on a voyage of self-discovery

Quite literally, Kalki fills every frame in the film. And with every impish grin, every atonal articulation, every pained grimace and every silent tear, she lends such verisimilitude to her portrayal of a person with cerebral palsy, that you forget for close to two hours that she’s an able-bodied actress. It’s as if the engine of a car is in peak condition, but the steering mechanism has gone awry. Speech impediment is common, as is frustration at the inability to communicate coherently. Kalki channels this frustration in with understated artistry.

Like a typical young woman in college, Laila is hormonally driven by adolescent impulses. Additionally, she also appears to seek out the company of able-bodied friends, apparently to feel ‘normal’ herself. Or it could just be that her parents, particularly her mother (another compact, touching portrayal by Revathy) have hardwired that sense of normalcy in her.

So, when Laila secures admission to a New York university, her parents overcome their own fears and send her out into the world. Laila copes rather better there, since campuses (and cities) are much more wheelchair-accessible and mainstream mindsets are inclusive enough. She also gets into a relationship with a blind (non-Indian) desi (played by Sayani Gupta) that expands the canvas of her sexual self-discovery, but also puts her in conflict with her tradition-bound mum back home. A melodramatic twist in the tale ensues — evidently Shonali Bose couldn’t steer the plotline to safer waters — but given Laila’s effervescence, the downbeat sentiment soon passes.

Margarita narrates a moving, endearing rite-of-passage story of a ‘disabled’ young woman who embraces life in its entirety. As Laila, Kalki will make you laugh sillily — and also cry buckets. But not tears of pity or sorrow, just the joy of falling in love with a beautiful mind in a disobedient body.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 5:30:45 AM |

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