Screened Out – Margarita, with a Straw

[four-star-rating]Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Kuljeet Singh, William Moseley, Sayani Gupta[/four-star-rating]

Margarita, with a Straw shows in both Orlando and Tampa Bay within the next month. This sensible little drama starts a limited engagement this Sept. 11 at Maitland’s Enzian Theater. The film was also selected as part of the TampaBay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival starting Oct. 2.

Roger Ebert once called movies “instant empathy machines.” This film – about an Indian college student (Koechlin) coming to grips with her bisexuality – is a perfect example. As if the sexual politics and international flavor weren’t enough, Koechlin’s character has cerebral palsy.

Yet this is the most matter-of-fact, least maudlin film about a woman with disability. There is no hand wringing, no sense of teaching the audience a lesson. The fact that her parents (Revathy, Singh) have to take care of her is added tension to this sweet, cross-continental coming out tale.

Laila (Koechlin) is a gregarious Delhi college student studying writing and participating in typical campus activities. She’s smart and sassy, giving great rebel attitude while participating in a rock songwriting contest. Though her cerebral palsy affects her speech, she is only mobile with a wheelchair, and she has to live with her parents, her indomitable spirit attracts some admirers.

Shonali Bose - who cowrote and co-directed - is still doing solid work; actor Kalki Koechlin is amazing!
Shonali Bose – who cowrote and co-directed – is still doing solid work; actor Kalki Koechlin is amazing!

Of course, we often start our romantic history by falling for the wrong person, letting our hormones rule us. Laila is no exception.

The good news is that Laila has been offered a scholarship to study in Manhattan. Knowing she cannot accept without her mother (Revathy) moving with her, Laila has been dragging out her decision. The embarrassment of her first romance pushes Laila to accept. In the Big Apple, Laila attracts both and English student (William Moseley of The Chronicles of Narnia) and a Pakastani/Indian woman, a blind activist played by Gupta.

Isn’t it funny how we cannot simply run away from our problems? In Delhi or New York City, Laila has to face her sexuality, as well as her physical need for sex.

Koechlin carefully plays Laila – both her vivacious personality and her disability – with such subtle skill. It’s the level of performance that won Eddie Redmayne an Oscar this last year for The Theory of Everything. Koechlin has been garnering awards on the international film circuit. Those unfamiliar with her might assume the filmmakers found a woman with cerebral palsy to portray Laila.

The heightened complication is that Laila cannot live without her parents’ help and support. Dad Singh drives his daughter around Delhi. After encouraging Laila to take the scholarship, Laila’s sweet but naïve mother (Revathy) has to move with her. Coming out – or being cool in the Big Apple – is more difficult when Mom has to bathe you and put you to bed.

Typical of many Indian dramas, there is melodrama toward the end, making the primary struggle a little too easy to resolve. Director/co-writer Shonali Bose – whose other film Amu (2005) succumbed to histrionics – wrote Margarita with a little less artifice, but it’s still there.

Two things make Margarita so wonderful – so magnetic and empathy inducing: the overall tone and the wonderful cast, led by the charming, appealing Koechlin.


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