Margarita, with a Straw – the second feature film from writer/director Shonali Bose after 2005’s Amu – is truly excellent. It is the story of Laila (Kalki Koechlin) a young woman from Delhi with cerebral palsy. It follows her over about a year in her life as she experiences her first heartbreak, moves away from home to attend university, has her first alcoholic drink, falls in love, and other milestones that I don’t want to spoil for you. Margarita, with a Straw is remarkable because it is a coming-of-age movie about a girl with cerebral palsy, not A Movie About a Girl With Cerebral Palsy (if that makes sense).
It is also remarkable because Laila is shown to be attracted to both men and women, and actually uses the word ‘bisexual’ to describe herself (this is a word that is rarely uttered in North American pop culture, even on supposedly progressive tv shows like Orange is the New Black). The strong screenplay is brought to life by some fine performances, including Sayani Gupta as Khanum, a young woman Laila meets in New York, and Revathy, in a deeply touching performance as Laila’s mother. But the most remarkable performance is Kalki Koechlin’s as Laila. Her body, face, and eyes, are so expressive that you always know what Laila is thinking or feeling even if she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. And I actually overheard more than one audience member admit to being surprised when she walked out on stage after the screening – because they were expecting her to be in a wheelchair. I can’t imagine, given some of its content, that Margarita, with a Straw will ever see the light of day in India. But I expect it will do quite well on the film festival circuit, and encourage you to watch it there, or when it eventually makes its way to DVD.