A sensitive portrait of disability and the sexual awakening of a young bisexual woman.
By B. Root
Shonali Bose’s 2014 drama Margarita with a Straw follows the story of Laila (Kalki Koechlin), a young, adventurous bisexual woman who is undeterred by cerebral palsy.
Laila is a student at India’s Delhi University and an aspiring writer who writes lyrics and creates audio tracks for an indie band at school. As is natural for students at this age, Laila becomes curious about sex and begins experimenting by kissing her friend Dhruv (Hussain Dalal) in the campus library. From here, Laila embarks on a journey of self-discovery, independence, and sexual autonomy.
She starts falling for Nima (Tenzin Dalha), the lead singer of the college band, because she misreads Nima’s love of her new lyrics and believes he is actually interested in her. Laila is heartbroken after Nima rejects her when he realizes she likes him. However, she quickly overcomes this heartbreak when she receives a letter in the mail telling her she has been awarded a scholarship to attend New York University for a semester. Laila’s father (Kuljeet Singh) discourages this venture, but her mother (Revathy) is very supportive and decides to move with Laila to New York. Before they leave for America, there is a beautiful moment where her parents and her brother, Monu (Malhar Khushu), help Laila stand up for a dance.
Living in Manhattan, Laila meets a cute boy named Jared (William Moseley) in her creative-writing class who is assigned to help her with typing. Shortly thereafter, Laila stumbles upon and joins in on her first protest where she meets a blind woman named Khanum (Sayani Gupta). Connecting almost instantly, Laila and Khanum begin seeing each other regularly as friends. However, the girls quickly develop feelings for one another, and they decide to become girlfriends. As she falls in love with Khanum while continuing to feel attracted to men like Jared, Laila is forced to reconcile her attraction to both men and women.
Her identity crisis is further complicated by the hospitalization of her mother and the problems that arise in her relationship with Khanum. Her sexual exploration causes a riff within herself and those she is closest to. Ultimately, it is in the strength of these bonds that she finds the courage to be her true self.
Margarita with a Straw has garnered praise and awards at many film festivals, including the Netpac Award for Best World or International Asian Film Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the Best Narrative Feature at the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival. The film has received attention in India and throughout the world for its tender portrayal of taboo subjects rarely depicted on screen. Bose’s script approaches the subject with the sensitivity and insight it deserves. Bose’s direction and cinematography echoes this sensitivity with beautifully intimate and revealing shots of Laila with the other characters. Particularly impressive is Koechlin’s performance in the film. Her delicate portrayal of Laila as a complicated and flawed character earned her the Jury Award for Best Actress at India’s National Film Awards.
Margarita with a Straw is an intersectional coming-of-age story that reveals the complexities of learning to love one’s self entirely.
Margarita with a Straw is now available on VOD and DVD through Wolfe Video (wolfevideo.com).
B. Root is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.