Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Hussain Dalal, Tenzing Dalha
Director: Shonali Bose
Do the disabled `also’ desire? Do they, in other words which I will not mince, dream and drowse and long for sexual exploration and intimacy? Hell, yeah. Of course they do. There is no ‘also’, which all of us so-called ‘able’ people add into the mix.
People with disabilities are people like everyone else, and, like everyone else, have feelings. But this isn’t something we publicly acknowledge, even if we are informed. There may be some dreary discourse about `these things’ in seminars and institutions which are run for ‘those people’, but the movies almost never frontline a challenged person unless they are to be put on pedestals and made into heroes who struggle against monumental odds to, mostly, win sporting trophies.
Shonali Bose blows it all out in the open with warmth and empathy in her second feature, ‘Margarita With A Straw’ and just for that, her work here is done.
Laila ( Koechlin) is a wheel-chair bound young woman. She is also frisky and free-spirited. How anyone can appear thus while dealing with a body that will not obey the commands of your brain, which is as agile, if not more, than anyone else’s, is something Koechlin manages beautifully. For the `abled’ to realistically portray a disabled person is incredibly tough : Kalki pulls it off, and makes us believe and invest in her Laila.
In her Delhi University college, Laila falls for a cool guy ( Dalha) who grooves. And learns, like all of us do, about rejection. In the US, where she goes for a ‘creative writing course’, accompanied by her mother ( Revathy, reliably solid), she makes the discovery that she may, gasp, swing both ways.
Her companions on this part of her journey, a visually impaired young woman ( Gupta), and a cute guy in her class, are able to move past the tangled, wasted limbs to the girl, whose wants are clear to anyone with an eye ( or none), and half a brain.
The fact that Laila is able to make the connection with both the girl and the boy is wonderful, and for our cinema, a radical idea to bring on to the screen. Happily, Bose doesn’t make too much of a big deal about it : she doesn’t shy away from showing the sex, it happens, minus titillation and prurience. Again, that’s all to the good.
The film falters in bits, especially in the second half. Some choppiness occurs in scenes which rush by too quickly without us really knowing what was being established. Some flatly obvious things get said, and add to the jaggedness : the frequent close-ups and pull-backs are distracting.
But nothing takes away from the beating heart of the film, which gives us a girl to root for, and a subject that needs to be out there, in the public domain. It is something Bose knows from the inside, as the film is based on the life experiences of her cousin Malini Chib, who has cerebral palsy, and who has never let it get in her way.
People with disabilities are not ‘those becharas’. They are like you and me, in many essential ways. Laila is certainly not a `bechari’– that poor thing, to be pitied and patronized : she acknowledges her difficulties but doesn’t let them overwhelm her, as she trundles down the path, to find herself. For our cinema to acknowledge this is an achievement.
This is a film to be celebrated. I am raising a Margarita, as a toast. Now where’s that straw?