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Sarah Ismail reviews Margarita, With A Straw: a film by Shonali Bose / 17 December 2014

Margarita, with a Straw stars Kalki Koechlin as Laila

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Released last October Margarita, With A Straw is the title of a Hindi movie about disability, which follows the life and loves of Laila, a university student with cerebral palsy. Laila lives in Delhi with her loving family and attends Delhi University where she gets the chance to broaden her horizons.

She has a close male friend who, just like her, is a wheelchair user. He is in love with her, but she breaks his heart when she meets a non-disabled musician- who later breaks her heart.

And this is the point when the movie really starts tackling sensitive subjects. It has several sensitive themes, each tackled as well as the last.

Heartbroken and embarrassed after making a fool of herself with a boy who doesn’t love her, Laila leaves Delhi University and enrols on a Creative Writing course at NYU. Here she meets a blind student activist, Khanum, who is half Pakistani, half Bangladeshi- but, surprisingly for a movie mostly set in India, that’s not the problem.

Khanum teaches Laila several things about herself. Early on, she encourages her to try alcohol for the first time. Her choice? Margarita, with a straw.

Later, Khanum reveals that she is gay, and the young women begin a very serious, special same-sex relationship. However, Laila remains bisexual, and once cheats on Khanum with a boy. Never afraid to say the wrong thing, at this point Laila says just about the most hurtful thing possible- when asked for a reason, she says it happened because he could see her.

A movie with a visibly disabled main character can never completely ignore disability, and this one doesn’t ever try. So as well as facing all the same issues as any other young adult, Laila faces issues that I, as a person disabled since birth, recognised instantly.

Although she loves her mother deeply, Laila longs for her own independence, and for some privacy. The mother and daughter have their first real fight when Laila’s secret stash of porn websites is accidentally discovered!

Towards the end of the movie, Laila has to face yet another challenge, when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. As many adult children would do, at the end of her mother’s life Laila takes on the role of carer.

The script, throughout, has a great sensitivity to disability. It never shows disabled people as perfect, but only as real people. For this, writer and director Shonali Bose must be thanked.

The only negative thing that could be said about this movie is that the two lead actresses do not share their characters’ disabilities. However, they both play their roles to perfection. Perhaps disabled actors for disabled roles is the next step that Indian cinema needs to take, but this movie is proof that when it comes to tackling disability issues well, that is the only step that Indian cinema has left.

Keywords: carers,cerebral palsy,indian cinema