Directors: Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta
A differently-abled, bisexual Hindi film heroine. Did you ever imagine you would see those words in the same sentence? In Margarita with a Straw, writer-director Shonali Bose and actor Kalki Koechlin give us a woman we have never seen in our cinema before. At least I haven't.
But that's only one of the many things that make this film worth watching. The beauty is that Shonali creates a singularly unique character and then makes us admire her for more than just her uniqueness.
Laila, played by Kalki, is a Delhi University student, who was born with cerebral palsy. She moves around in a wheel-chair and cannot go to the bathroom without assistance. But that doesn't stop her from laughing and loving fiercely. In our movies, the sexuality of able-bodied women is a startling idea, so imagine the shock you get when Laila masturbates, watches porn, openly lusts and experiments with men and a woman.
That woman, Khanum, played nicely by Sayani Gupta, happens to be blind. But once again, Shonali and her codirector Nilesh Maniyar don't make that her defining trait. It's dealt with matter-of-factly, with an unforced lightness. Laila and Khanum share an interesting dynamic and there is not one moment when you pity either one. But the core of Margarita with a Straw is Laila's relationship with her mother, Aai, played by Revathy.
Revathy is blessed with an inherent generosity of spirit and she imbues her character with genuine warmth. Aai's relationship with Laila is filled with love and understanding but it is also frustrating for both women. Beyond a point, Aai simply can't get her head around Laila's untamed spirit.
It is this relationship that centres the film. In places, Margarita with a Straw seems clumsy and strained. At times, it feels like Laila's libido is sidelining everything else. And scenes with more scale like the student protest where Laila and Khanum meet are awkwardly staged. But the sense of deep and abiding love between the mother and daughter never falters.
Neither does Kalki's performance. She is absolutely heart-breaking and staggeringly lovely. Watch her in the little moments – the way her face crumples when a boy she likes doesn't reciprocate or when Khanum's sensuous touching makes her awkward.
This film is guaranteed to make you cry. But it will also fill you with hope. These amazing women will make you want to inhale life with a new ferociousness.