Rarely has subject matter such as the one explored in Bollywood Director Shonali Boses’ newest film Margarita With A Straw been received with such open arms by global audiences from India all the way to the United States. Films that come to mind that tip toe around the topic of sexuality especially involving what many would call ‘others’ who represent symbols of stigmatiized taboo.
The disabled, LGBT community, those with HIV, and the transgendered. Recent films such as Dallas Buyers Club and going back to the 1990’s with Boys Don’t Cry, which this movie reminds me of because of its successful portrayal of a unheard of or unspeakable human being with a condition that makes people feel confused or at odds with just how on earth they can be sexual.
This film takes the protagonist Lyla played by one of Bollywood’s most talented actress Kalki Koechen on a beautiful journey of self discovery amidst her challenging cerebral palsy. In the beginning the film is set in India & shows Lyla in her homeland before she moves to New York City to attend NYU and is thrust into an entirely unknown yet exciting world marked by sexual liberty and freedom with a blind woman she falls in love with. Currently playing in select US theaters, San Jose being one, the film was released in 2015 in India leaving audiences touched and enlightened by this delicate yet determined young woman who will not, under any circumstance, allow life’s obstacles to keep her down. The film will be available in DVD/VOD and a larger theatrical release starting June 14th. You’ll want to see this one. Any film with a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes is worth watching, in my book at least.
Interviewing Bollywood’s famed director and famous actress Bose and Koechlin before I set out to Bombay was a fascinating introduction for me. Here I am, in Berkeley, waiting to travel to India for the first time to work on a film with a very well known director who I had discovered at this year’s Sundance. The furthest I had ever traveled was the Czech Republic. Was I nervous? A little. Did I know anyone in India, let alone Bollywood? India’s robust, hyper-exclusive and impressive film industry was a mystery to me. But thankfully that shifted after I spoke with Bose and Koechlin who helped me gain a deeper understanding of Indian cinema.
Bose, a warm, friendly, humble, yet ambitious and assertive woman (you kind of need to possess those traits as a director in my opinion) should be praised for making such an important film. Her attitude yells: “I have a damn good story to tell and I’m gonna tell it!” The film as Bose puts it, “humanizes the LGBT community in South Asian countries such as India.” When asked what sparked her interest to tap into or jump head first into this sensitive and let’s be honest stigmatized reality for millions of people, she succinctly said, “You don’t want to see people with twisted bodies, or think about them in a sexual way. It’s not the ideal type. This subject (that of people with disabilities having sex) is rarely seen in film especially told with insight and humor.”
Shonali, a Bollywood/US director & screenwriter notably known for her internationally critically acclaimed & award winning film Amu. thought about this for movie idea 30 years with this film which breaks through the taboo forcing viewers to recognize that, YES people with disabilities just like people without, are sexual beings, capABLE of finding love. Boses’ Margarita With A Straw, features a female protagonist named Lyla played by Koechlin who amazingly and surprisingly stayed in character off set during her day to day personal life…meaning in a wheelchair in her cerebral palsy mode.
Kalki shared with me as she reminisced about a very unique experience she had while shooting. Her, the director and various other principal cast and crew all lived in the same house during production. Off and on set throughout the whole process. Day in and day out. That’s inspiring. She talked of times when they would sit around offering feedback and affirmations about one’s performance and times of reflections and growth as they persevered through production from start to finish witnessing the transformation of people such as Bose who has a personal connection to Margarita. “The topic was inspired by my own cousin who is also disabled (cerebral palsy),” she said. Bose wrote the screenplay.
When talking with Kalki she excitedly began telling me the moment when Boses’ idea bloomed into the being stages of Margarita. One day Bose and her cousin were out celebrating her cousin’s birthday. They were at a pub and Bose asked her what exactly she wanted for her special day. Kalki said Boses’ cousin yelled out, “I want to get laid!”
The film made me laugh, no doubt. Mainly because of the Lylas’ challenges and the relentless rejection by able bodied folks who she was attracted to and her response to their indifference. Scenes in which Lyla would expose the truth about having a crush on people she went to school with. The awkwardness when she let it out ached a bit but the way Lyla handled the rejection spoke volumes of just how much people such as her have to live. But never did I feel completely sorry for Lyla during the film. Her spirit simply wouldn’t allow for it. Sure empathy, but sympathy? No. Lyla, a fiercely funny and charismatic young college student captivated me without compromise. Her brave yet vulnerable spirit wouldn’t hold back or let rejection stop her; a trait that Bose instilled in her character masterfully and executed flawlessly by Koechli.
and start preproduction with another very well known Indian direc