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People with disability have a masti side to them too: Filmmaker Shonali Bose

Shonali Bose’s film about a girl with cerebral palsy looks at changing the myths surrounding specially-abled people

Kalki Kalki Koechlin plays a songwriter with celebral palsy in Margarita, with a Straw; director Shonali Bose (Express Photo)

A few years ago, Shonali Bose was in the US to celebrate her cousin’s 40th birthday. While chatting over drinks with her cousin at a pub in Los Angeles one evening, Bose casually asked her how she wanted to celebrate her birthday. Her cousin suffers from cerebral palsy, so her speech slurs occasionally. But at that moment she was loud and clear. “‘I want to have sex,’ she said. I was taken aback,” says Bose.

Though the evening ended without any other further adventure, the National Award-winning filmmaker pondered over her cousin’s remark and soon she had a narrative in her mind. “We had never considered Malini’s (her cousin) sexual needs until that time. But then it struck me that even she has needs like any other human being,” says Bose. Her latest feature film titled Margarita, with a Straw looks at the life of a young songwriter who has cerebral palsy. The film which is Bose’s second feature will have its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8.

Shonali-Bose Director Shonali Bose (Express Photo)

Bose has co-written the script with her friend Nilesh Maniyar. The film shows 18-year-old Laila’s (Kalki Koechlin) journey, as she goes to New York University for higher studies. With an appetite for living out her sexual desires, the 100-minute film tells us about Laila’s self-discovery. Though she has cerebral palsy, the story, insists Bose, is not about creating sympathy or sensitivity towards disability; it is more about a mother-daughter equation. Apart from Koechlin, the film also stars Revathi (Shubhangini), who essays the role of Laila’s mother; William Moseley (Jared), who meets Laila in NY; and newcomer Sayani Gupta (Khanum), who plays her friend in NY. “Within the first moments of the film one gets to see Laila’s carefree spirit. She is a live wire and one does not usually expect a specially-abled person to behave like that. After watching the film, you will feel this can be your story too. It is not about cerebral palsy,” says Bose, who has been working on the script for over two years.

The title of the film emerges from the carefree nature of Laila, a girl from a middle-class family in India. One day, she walks into a bar in New York and orders a margarita. “If life throws lemons at you, you can either make a lemonade or throw it away. Laila chooses a margarita,” says the 49-year-old filmmaker.

Having grown up with a cousin affected by cerebral palsy, Bose was familiar with the mannerisms of people with such a condition. “People with a disability are not always polite, looking for sympathy or nice. They have a masti side to them too,” says Bose, who consulted Malini and others suffering from cerebral palsy before finalising her drafts, to avoid being insensitive towards them.

Unlike her previous film, Amu, on the 1984 Sikh riots, which won the National Award for Best English film in 2005 and ran into controversy with the Censor Board over an ‘A’ certificate, Bose is open to the idea of an ‘A’ certificate for her latest. “We want an ‘A’ certificate for this film. We do not want to cut any scenes,” says Bose, who is aiming for a theatre release early next year.

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