The sexuality of disabled people is often ignored and that’s what inspired director Shonali Bose to come up with ‘Margarita, With A Straw’, a gentle coming-of-age story about a woman afflicted with cerebral palsy.
Bose says her second directorial venture, starring Kalki Koechlin in the lead, is a culmination of her own experiences and that of her cousin Malini, who has cerebral palsy.
“The sexuality of people with disability is ignored by us. Somehow we don’t believe that they would have the same emotional and physical needs that normal people have. My film is a coming-of-age story about one such woman’s journey of finding love,” Bose told PTI in an interview.
The ‘Amu’ helmer, who won the global filmmaking award at Sundance for her script, says the story went through many changes after that.
“I realised that I was looking at my protagonist through my sister’s eyes and that changed later. I started looking at the character through my own eyes. Many of her experiences are actually mine,” she says.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to encouraging reviews and was picked among the 16 films to watch out for by festival director Cameron Bailey, who called it “an exceptional portrait of a woman discovering what she wants, and how to get it.”
The film is next headed to Busan and BFI London film festivals.
Bose, 49, reveals she and co-director Nilesh Maniyar must have gone through more than 40 drafts to finalise the script.
Raising money for the unusual project was another challenge that they had to overcome.
“Viacom 18 has given half of the money and they are releasing the film in February. Another big production house from India agreed to come on board for the other half but they pulled out just 10 days before the shoot. We were stranded in New York with the crew.
“I had to take out a personal loan to complete the film. I told the crew that I can’t pay you now but I promise, I will return every penny later. To my relief, they all gave their best for the movie,” says the director.
Despite the troubles, Bose is happy with the way the film has shaped up. She also credits Malini for being with her along the difficult but fulfilling journey.
“Malini and I have been very close since childhood. She has supported me a lot in making this film. Every time she watches the film, she howls and she laughs. She feels very strongly about the issue,” says Bose.
The director has an interesting story about how Kalki almost did not do the film.
“Kalki’s name was suggested by Nilesh. She has this innocent and adorable smile. She is very beautiful but not too perfect. She was the first choice for Laila’s role but then the shooting of ‘Yeh Jawani’ got delayed and she needed three months’ time which I did not have,” she says.
The director says she decided to opt for another actor as she did not want to delay the film further but finally returned to Kalki.
“I must have auditioned some 100 girls but no one had the empathy and the insight that was needed to play this part. They would be unhappy when told that they would not be able to take any other project while doing this film. Whereas Kalki completely understood that she needed to devote herself to Laila. Finally, I came back to her and told her ‘you are doing it’.”
Bose, who made her film debut with ‘Amu’ that depicted the 1984 Sikh riots, feels she consciously gravitates towards complex topics.
“I have been an activist all my life. I have been a student of history and politics. I believe that cinema can change things and feel passionate about such issues,” she says
Bose feels her film is about a woman seeking her own place in society.
“Sometimes you need to forgive yourself to love and accept yourself. That’s what the film talks about. Laila is seeking that for herself and I think we all are.”