Margarita – with a Straw: An appreciation
Margarita with a straw
This is not a review – there must be thousands out there. This is more in the nature of a fan report.
Story (courtesy: tiff.net):
In this inspirational love story, a Delhi university student and aspiring writer afflicted with cerebral palsy (Kalki Koechlin, Dev.D,That Girl in Yellow Boots) leaves India for New York University, where she falls for a fiery young activist.
Unusual only because it’s so rarely seen on screen, Margarita, with a Straw is an exceptional portrait of a woman discovering what she wants, and how to get it.
Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is a student and aspiring writer, crafting lyrics and electronic sounds for an indie band at her Delhi university. Her cerebral palsy doesn’t much get in the way of her life, although it sometimes does for others. When Laila’s band wins a local contest, the condescending host says to her, “It must have been so hard for you. Can you share something with us?” Laila shares her middle finger.
Always seeking more freedom and new experience, Laila wins a place at New York University and leaves India with her mother (Revathy) for Manhattan. There she meets a fiery activist, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), who challenges her beliefs, sparks her creativity, and, eventually, takes her to bed. For these two women, it’s the beginning of a remarkable love story.
Some general factors about the family (mainly for the non-desis)
This is a Sikh-Maharashtrian family.
The father retains the visual signs of his Sikh identity – turban, uncut hair and so on. The kids have obviously been brought up with no unnecessary stress on either culture. I am saying this since the family is an ideal modern family (by Indian standards), probably used to brushing off some of society’s barbs aimed at a “mixed” marriage. Older family members are not evident. Maybe they have already cut off this couple and their kids.
There is no preference shown to the son and no concerns expressed about the girl having a limited marital future. The four are a well-connected and loving family unit.
There are several aspects of the disabled life and the director must be applauded for noticing small details and for the actor to convey it so effortlessly. It needs a lot of empathy and observation to get under the skin of another character. There were moments in the movie when I felt that I was seeing a real person with a disability.
First of all, the very title is a tribute to all of us persons with a disability. We would prefer to consume liquids with a straw and try to prevent spills. We sympathise with her when she makes a mess of a simple task like cracking eggs – been there, done that!
I like the fact that the girl has adjusted to her disability very wonderfully. She is canny enough to bristle at an inappropriate comment (example, at the patronising talent show judge). At the same time she has no qualms in using her disability to get a hot writer, a fellow student, to “help her” in her class work. It is brilliantly portrayed how a disabled person can be extremely powerful and extremely needy at different times.
The chess player that she meets in the U.S initially ignores her, but later comes around when he realises she is a talented player. The unspoken message is that one does not get a free ride and it has to be earned. She does a young-person thing by pawning a family heirloom and buying an I-Pad, which she sometimes uses to look at porn. It is not surprising for a modern viewer to realise that most teenagers and young adults enjoy some form of porn though I have not seen this in any mainstream Bollywood film.
Much has been made of the movie’s portrayal of the physical and romantic relationship between the two girls Laila and Khanum. Laila is Indian and her girlfriend Pakistani. In India, at least, the most titillating aspect of the film is this lesbian relationship. In fact, they dance together, order their first Margarita together. Two students could never do this in India. It is quite understandable that young students from different cultures, when exposed to the sudden freedoms of the west, would experiment as much as possible. Higher education comes at a cost. What you gain in academic honours, you lose in torn hymens (LOL).
It just so happens that this girl finds her soul mate in another girl. It could as well have been a man since at that time in her life she seems open to everything. She brings her girlfriend back home and the family accepts Khanum’s “innocent” status as a room-mate, despite the fact that they were probably doing it a lot. The girl come out to her mother (not her father, fathers are left out of so many such delicate discussions). She confesses to her mother that she is a bisexual. The mother realises that she is in fact having sex with her girlfriend in the next room. Fortunately there are no scenes of high drama between the lesbian lover and the family.
In a bid to seek a resolution (to the story, not the daughter’s life) the mother is conveniently hospitalised and later dies. (spoiler alert here, and no, it is not her daughter coming out that kills her). The mother is sensitively played by Revathy, one of my favorites.
Khanum has a fight with Laila when she confesses to having cheated (once) with a man (the scribe for who she had the hots!). The lesbian-from-a-foreign land leaves the Indian family because she is upset at the infidelity. Laila is apologetic and tries to clarify things.