There couldn’t be a more appropriate title for Margarita with a Straw; a title referring to the first time our protagonist, Laila (played brilliantly by actress Kalki Koechlin) orders an alcoholic drink after moving from Delhi to New York for University study, her first steps into adulthood if you will, which is essentially what this film is a ‘coming of age’ tale, one of which that is being told from a rarely unexplored perspective.
The film focuses on a student who’s grappling with her disability, bisexuality and cultural expectations. It’s a difficult juggling act for writer-director Shonali Bose and lead actress Kalki Koechlin but they manage the subject matters with good, well thought-out sensibilities, if at times losing track of some of the more interesting plot threads along the way. One of the key aspects the film achieves is the representation of disability; As the audience you are guided through Laila’s perspective from the beginning, seeing her lack of confidence that comes from her disability (such as; cropping out pictures on social media as not to show her wheelchair), but yet you never feel sorry for her, being that she is someone who won’t let their disability define them or get in the way of the student lifestyle. An example of Laila’s defiance against her disability is when she writes lyrics for a rock band, but when she receives a award for the song she is met with patronising false praise from the host due to her disability, her responded? Giving them the middle finger and rolling her chair offstage, rock on Laila, rock on.
When people are surprised of her sexual explorations later on in the film, we the audience are not; we have seen her wants, we have seen her desires and the able-bodied character that makes the assumption that she is asexual due to her disability is seen for the ignorance such a perspective is. Despite this often being an assumption on the part of some able-bodied individuals, living through Laila eyes, seeing other disabled characters that have similar desires completely breaks down these misconceptions that able-bodied people may have about disability. The film achieves this without ever feeling to melodramatic, which is a credit to the writing and directing of Shonali Bose, who primarily uses a low key realist style with a perfectly chosen soundtrack to match.
Laila is far from a perfect character; in fact at times she is rather dislikeable, showing her own ignorance to those who have other disabilities, but all this does is add to the depth of the character. The mistakes she makes through-out are all inherently human, you’ll surely get mad at her, and you may not feel sorry for her, but after seeing countless disability films that treat the disabled individual as a type of ‘inspirational porn’, then Margarita with a Straw is more than a welcomed introduction.
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