A refreshing review of the film ‘Margarita with a Straw’ by Amrita Dasgupta where she analyses the deftly portrayed character of a disabled young woman and the various epiphanies in her life’s journey.
The attempt at creating a movie with an age-old, brushed-aside theme is necessarily a brave undertaking in this era of the big-budget, glittery, commercial, entertainment sagas. We have all tasted the common genres of tale and now it peels off with a difference — the protagonist being a ‘disabled’ woman is all that takes to make a movie successful. Bollywood has surely produced movies on impairment issues but has rarely provided any space for a woman’s fairplay. Kalki Koechlin promisingly delivers her part and resolves the raging debates on wishes, desires and sexuality of a ‘special’ person.
The movie is not only unique in housing a hushed theme or a female protagonist, but also in rejecting its formal title, it reflects novelty. The initial title Choone Chali Assman was rejected, in lieu of Margarita with a Straw only to avoid echoes of the film Taare Zameen Par and thereby freeing it from the tangles of any pre-formed conception in the same string. In Taare Zameen Par Ishan was still to know his odds and overcome them. But here, Laila is too agile, acknowledges her situation and is able to decide for herself and achieve the most in life.
The story paints the life of Laila (Kalki Koechelin) and reflects strongly the bond woven between Laila’s Aii (Reevathy) and her. A girl with cerebral palsy paints a rainbow for herself, being educated in Literature and as well as in music, she wins the prize for her college by composing a song. Angered on being felicitated on grounds of impairment, she bursts into tears. When her merits are not applauded she shatters to open her heart , confessing love to her crush , facing her first heart break – the rejection faced by any ‘normal’ girl.
She regroups herself, travels to the United States for pursuing a course on Creative Writing. Her eternal wish for exploring the body and the latent desire to feel another self reaches fulfillment here. She traverses both ways to understand her mind – Laila meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta) a blind girl on whom she unleashes her attraction for the same sex. In the night out Laila experiences intimacy with Khanum after having a shot of ‘margarita with a straw’ which provides to be the catalyst to her own self-realization that was soon to follow. They develop a bond of true trust, but the oscillation continues between the trust of love and being only a friend with benefits. Laila even succumbs to society-approved intimacy revealing the truth of her life – that she was a bisexual. Her curtailed motor impulse functions fail in face of her bisexual orientation which she discovered after she got intimate with her typist friend Jared (Willian Moseley) in spite of being with Khanum.
Apart from all the issues of being different sexually the film also develops an aspect of warm mother-daughter relationship. A mother who is convincingly strong supports her child in all hardship, but gets infuriated on finding Laila’s dark secret – watching pornographic sites. She is patient and loving, gives Laila the wings to fly and yet negates her on being bisexually oriented. Laila’s family loves Khanum as a daughter and cherishes her as Laila’s closest friend. When they fly back to India the original revelation of their relationship shocks Laila’s mother who ultimately loses her life to colon cancer. Music which had been the soulful connection between the mother and daughter is Laila’s last homage to Aii – a recorded ‘raga’ sung by Aii being played before the funeral. A mother who supported the uniqueness of her child, who once denied accepting the child being ‘handicapped’ fails to acknowledge and approve her child’s alternate sexuality.
The second half of the film fails to draw appreciation on the grounds of being a bit clichéd with flat dialogues. Laila’s confession of cheating on Khanum and sleeping behind her back with a guy destroys the relationship forever. But it teaches Laila the true essence of life – the concept of light being within us, the need to allow our light to brighten us along with the others around. Here again Laila resorts to having a shot of Margarita to make herself happy again while she is out on a date with herself.
With a small star cast, excellent acting and breath taking script coupled with commanding direction by Shonali Bose, this film deserves raising a toast of Margarita.
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