By Manjit Bains
I’m not sure if this is a film I can tell you to watch.
How open are you when it comes to controversial topics surrounding coming of age? When you watch Hindi films, do you turn away from the screen when they’re about to kiss? If so, then this is not the film for you.
Margarita With a Straw is a beautiful film about love and balance, in whatever form that may take.
It is the story of Laila (Kalki Koechlin), a young girl in the process of becoming a woman. Along with the usual growing pains, she balances traditional Indian family values with attending school in New York. Living with cerebral palsy, she also balances her independence, and a growing need for privacy, with her dependence on others to help with the routines of daily life.
Kalki Koechlin, an Indian actress of French descent, has the lead role in this English-language film with subtitles. Koechlin went to school in India, speaks French, English and Tamil, and learned to speak Hindi for her 2009 role in Dev D, which yielded a Best Supporting Actress Award at the 2010 Filmfare Awards for the Hindi-language film industry of India. She consequently won Best Supporting Actress in 2012 for her role in Shaitan at the Global Indian Film and TV Honours.
Her performance as Laila is reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape because I forgot th disability (and both are abled-bodied actors); I was so immersed in her character. Laila herself doesn’t let illness stop her from living life to the fullest, and we see this when she crops the image of her wheelchair out of all her photographs.
While a couple of scenes may have you squirming in your seat, there is no prolonged gratuitous nudity. I wonder why Koechlin decided to take on this story, and find that she is not one to shy away from roles that leave her vulnerable to the judgement of an audience whether that be in front of the camera (her role in Dev D), or behind the scenes (her marriage to Anurag Singh Kashyap, who directed the controversial award-winning film Black Friday, about the 1993 Mumbai bombings – they have since separated).
One of my favorite scenes is this movie is the argument about privacy between Laila and her mother (played by Revathy). It reminds me of my own mother, and her confusion about why I would want privacy when it’s something she herself has never wanted. It’s a concept she doesn’t fully comprehend.
There is a lovely scene where Laila sings with her mother, and what a gorgeous voice Revathy has, full of clarity and strength! She is beautifully cast as the Hindu wife of a Punjabi man, again showing two worlds coming together in harmony.
Filmmaker Shonali Bose wrote, directed, and produced Margarita, with a Straw along with her co-writer and co-director Nilesh Maniyar. The film was nominated for the Audience Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Grand Prize at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, where Kalki Koechlin won Best Actress. Last year, the film took home the NETPAC Award (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) at the Toronto International Film Festival. Understandable, as this film deals with current issues of what happens when generations and cultures collide. We have a choice to make it easier on ourselves by opening up to the conversations instead of shutting our eyes when the topic is unpleasant . . . or in more cases, unfamiliar. I feel that if the older generation is brave enough to watch this film, they can experience healing by observing vicariously through Laila, areas they fear to tread.
Margarita With a Straw follows Laila’s journey into adulthood. It is a love story where she learns to love . . . herself.
Manjit Bains is a writer and creative consultant who has worked in Vancouver’s independent film industry since 2005. She is a contributing writer for Desi Today magazine. Find more about Manjit on www.nikoproductions.ca.
Watch a trailer:
Margarita, with a Straw (India, 2014) opens the #VIWIFF2015 festival on March 4, 2015 at 7 PM. The feature is preceded by the short film Skin by Liz (Elizabeth) Hannah (US, 2014). Tickets include the red carpet opening event and festival party.