“The wound is the place where the Light enters you” – Rumi
These are the words to describe Margarita, with a Straw (Director. Shonali Bose).
Protagonist Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is a young bisexual woman with cerebral palsy.
Discrimination is no doubt a key issue raised in the film.
However, Laila is certainly not a victim.
Wheel chair bound, Laila is no different from any other young person- or rather, person.
Wanting to impress through Facebook, keen to fall in love, making mistakes and confronting her skeletons, Laila highlights that whomever we are we battle the same insecurity: to be accepted by society.
Nevertheless in finding herself, Laila finds a self-acceptance that cannot be shaken by any societal norm.
New York is where one of Laila’s important turning points of self-discovery, independence and love take place.
When Delhi based Laila gets a scholarship to study at New York University, her mother encourages and accompanies her. Amongst the crisp New York snow, the duo explore the streets of New York. It is the bond between the mother and daughter that provokes the powerful bond of love. What was beautifully portrayed is that Laila is not a disabled daughter but a daughter. The concerns, fears and conflicts arising between the two are universal.
Love is also highlighted as universal.
Love breaks the boundaries of gender when Laila meets Khanum, a female activist who is visually impaired.
The same-sex relationship is presented gracefully, including the love making scenes. The portrayal of sex throughout the film – whether heterosexual or homosexual – emphasises that sexual intimacy is more than physical. Sex is a longing for human connection and expression.
Laila’s first kiss with Khanum resonates with shock and bewilderment. Coming to terms with her bisexuality, Laila asks her girlfriend – “When did you know that you are gay?” Laila expresses – “This is scary. It’s wonderful but so scary” – reflecting sentiments of many who discover attraction for someone of the same-sex.
Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can hold many challenges regardless of ethnicity.
One challenge is of coming out, of revealing to loved ones on whom you are and how you feel.
Performance is the backbone of this film. True, the messages and avenues explored are powerful themes in themselves. However in order to effectively arouse the audience a connection must be made with characters on screen.
The three pivotal characters outstandingly succeed: Kalki Koechlin as Laila, Sayani Gupta as Khanum and Revathi as Laila’s mother are convincing and poignantly signify their side of the coin. Kalki Koechlin’s performance in particular signifies her as a truly versatile actress.
What lets the film down is the soundtrack. The songs are forgettable and it is a shame that they are. The emotions and the character’s journeys would perhaps have been all the more enhanced through strong lyrics. The cinematography also feels somewhat plain.
Nevertheless, Margarita, with a Straw is a must watch.
The film leaves you with a strong sense of wanting to make this world an equal place for all – isn’t that what the power of cinema should be used for in a world rife with inequality?