Kalki explores her sexuality (and equality) in Margarita, with a straw

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01jan_topactresses-kalkiFor many, the word lesbian, especially when used in conjunction with Indian still causes a fright. Or perhaps it’s more surprise? Nevertheless, lesbian Indian causes a reaction for many. Homophobia still looms over South Asian society particularly in the form of shame, reinforced by Section 377 – the law (re) criminalising same-sex love in India since December 2013.

Hence, playing the role of a South Asian lesbian – or leaving labels aside, to be in a same-sex relationship on screen – takes courage to put it lightly. This courage was boldly portrayed by Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das who played two sister-in-laws falling in love through Deepa Mehta’s 1996 production Fire. More recently, Kalki Koechlin stepped into the shoes of Laila – a Delhi student struggling with cerebral palsy in Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a straw. The film was awarded the Netpac Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere at this year’s prestigious Toronto Film Festival.

The film explores confronting challenges. Despite Laila’s disability, she moves to Manhattan and takes her place at New York University. This is where she meets and falls in love with Khanum (Sayani Gupta) – another woman. However, it is important to note that the film does not revolve around sexual orientation. Kalki highlights that actually, the film explores human aspects that each one of us face- this includes the struggle for self-acceptance, the adventures of love and the sometimes puzzling paths of life.

According to a source Kalki stated: “I’m playing a lesbian, but the film is not so much about being ‘a lesbian’. It’s about a girl with cerebral palsy, who explores her sexuality and comes to terms with it. She falls in love easily and there’s awkwardness about her since she doesn’t know what sex is and how to interact with the one she admires. It’s hard enough for any of us to come to terms with sexuality, and when one is disabled, there’s an extra barrier of low self-esteem. The film explores whether Laila’s bisexual, gay or heterosexual. The film also deals with nudity, but it has been shot aesthetically.”

Adopting the term LGBT can be empowering as it can take a lot to be able to express oneself as such. Nevertheless, perhaps sexual constructs such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight constrain a person rather than liberate as these may encourage preconceived judgements and box one into a world of expectations.

Kalki’s pinpointing the fact that we all struggle to come to terms with sexuality encourages towards a day where individuals will be seen as equal – regardless of orientation. The question however is, when will mainstream Bollywood be ready to step out of societal comfort zones and help advocate equality?

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