You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Margarita, With a Straw’

Shonali Bose's sophomore feature is an unexpected delight about an adventurous young woman with cerebral palsy.

Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, William Moseley, Hussain Dalal, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Tenzin Dalha, Shuchi Dwivedi, Jose Rivera. (Hindi, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2929690/

“Margarita, With a Straw” is one of the least hand-wringing movies ever made about a character with significant disabilities. Born with cerebral palsy, our heroine here certainly has her physical limitations and related psychological setbacks, but it’s her adventurous spirit (abetted by supportive family and friends) that sets the tone in Shonali Bose’s winning sophomore feature. Like her first, 2005’s “Amu,” this tale is rather Westernized in the telling, with narrative feet planted in both India and the U.S. That factor, good reviews and the pic’s crowdpleasing nature should guide it from a successful festival run to various format sales in numerous offshore territories, with niche theatrical sleeper status possible.

Though her freedom of movement and clarity of speech (subtitled here) are compromised, in most respects Laila (Kalki Koechlin) has a life akin to that of any other well-adjusted, outgoing college kid in Delhi. She still shares a room at home with a younger brother (Malhar Khushu); her middle-class mother (Revathy) and father (Kuljeet Singh) are doting but not overprotective, having clearly raised her to possess the sense of independence needed to mix freely in the world of able-bodied “normal” peers.

A fellow wheelchair-bound classmate, Dhruv (Hussain Dalal), would like them to be more than friends. But Laila sets her sights on Nima (Tenzin Dalha), the charismatic lead singer of the student rock outfit she writes lyrics for. When they win a battle-of-the-bands competition, she throws caution to the wind and makes her feelings known. His polite, embarrassed response is not what she’d hoped, however. Laila’s disabilities have kept her rather naive (not to mention inexperienced) in matters of romance, so she’s crushed by the rejection — so much so that she drops out of school, saying she can’t face going back.

Instead, she decides she’ll continue her writing studies abroad, an idea Dad opposes but Mom encourages. Thanks to a scholarship, mother and daughter are suddenly in Manhattan, where Laila enjoys her new surroundings — not least the very cute English boy (“The Chronicles of Narnia’s” William Moseley) assigned to be her study partner. Then a chance encounter at a street protest introduces her to Khanum (Sayani Gupta), an assertive young blind woman of Indian/Pakistani origin. To her initial surprise, Laila finds herself drawn into a same-sex relationship that swiftly moves from giddy experimentation to live-in commitment.

Striking just the right tone, “Margarita, With a Straw” admirably treats this lesbian relationship as it treats everything else: with a respectful yet light touch that avoids any conspicuous “social issue” soapboxing, being just one more element of personal discovery for a character who’s figuring out her place in the world. The same approach is taken to the general idea of raging hormones in a disabled person (whom much of society would prefer to regard in sexless terms), and to Laila’s assumed vulnerability roaming Manhattan.

The screenplay by Bose and Nilesh Maniyar (who also gets a special “co-director” credit) neatly avoids cliche in making these issues realistically prominent, yet never oppressive. Though she has occasional failures of confidence and resolve, Laila is not defined by her physical limits — her intellect, libido and eagerness to experience new things are more powerful than any preconceived notion of what someone with cerebral palsy can or should do.

The film’s unpredictable progress grows a little less so in the final reel, when a seed planted earlier about one family member’s possible illness sprouts into tearjerking fruition. Its final note is also perhaps a little more throwaway than would would like. But these are minor quibbles; overall, “Margarita, With a Straw” is an unexpected delight of charm and substance.

Performances are strong all around, with multilingual Indian star Koechlin (“Shaitan”) so convincing that those unfamiliar with her work elsewhere may well assume the filmmakers found a suitable actress with cerebral palsy. Design contributions are solidly pro without being conspicuous, a wise choice for a movie that deftly packs in so much story it doesn’t need any distracting stylistic filigree.

Film Review: 'Margarita, With a Straw'

Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival (World Cinema Now), Jan. 10, 2015. (Also in 2014 Toronto, Busan, London film festivals.) Running time: 100 MIN.

Production: (India) A Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Ishan Talkies production in association with Jakhotia Group and Adapt. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar, Ishan Talkies.

Crew: Directed by Shonali Bose. Screenplay, Bose, Nilesh Maniyar. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Anne Misawa; editor, Monisha Baldawa; music, Mikey McCleary; lyrics, Prasoon Joshi; production designer, Somenath Pakre, Prasun Chakraborthy; costume designers, Niharika Bhasin, Maria Tharakkan, Nikia Nelson; sound, Resul Pookutty, Amrit Pritam; casting, Maniyar, Adrienne Stern.

With: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, William Moseley, Hussain Dalal, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Tenzin Dalha, Shuchi Dwivedi, Jose Rivera. (Hindi, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Zoe Lister-Jones The Craft

    'The Craft' Remake Finds Director in Zoe-Lister Jones

    “Life in Pieces” star Zoe Lister-Jones will write and direct Sony Pictures’ remake of “The Craft” for Blumhouse and Red Wagon Entertainment. Doug Wick, the producer of the original “The Craft,” will return in the same capacity along with partner Lucy Fisher through their Red Wagon banner. Jason Blum is also producing and his Blumhouse [...]

  • Carol Burnett

    Carol Burnett's Mother-Daughter Story 'Carrie and Me' in Development as a Movie

    Carol Burnett’s bestseller “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story” is in the works as a movie at Focus Features with Burnett, Tina Fey, Eric Gurian, and Steven Rogers producing. Burnett will produce through her Mabel Cat Productions with Fey and Gurian under their production banner Little Stranger along with Rogers (“I, Tonya”). The sibling [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Plans for Agency Pact Expiration: 'There Will Be Difficult Moments'

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent members contingency plans for the possible expiration of its agency franchise agreement on April 7 — and admitted that it may be a rocky road. Members received the letter Tuesday from the guild’s negotiating committee as the WGA and agents were about the hold their seventh [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Entertainment One, Universal to Partner on Home Entertainment

    Entertainment One and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have signed a multi-year, multi-territory distribution agreement. UPHE will serve as the home entertainment distributor of eOne’s offerings across both physical and digital formats. The pact covers film, television, and select family content and includes all sales, marketing, and distribution, spanning the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Spain, Australia, [...]

  • Will Smith Jada Pinkett Smith

    AFI, Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation Launch Second Young Women in Film Intensive

    The AFI Conservatory and the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation have partnered to launch the second annual Young Women in Film Intensive. The AFI Campus in Los Angeles will host 45 high school girls for an eight-week filmmaking workshop, where students will receive mentorship from current fellows and working professional alumni of the AFI [...]

  • Paul Davidson

    The Orchard Head Content Executive Paul Davidson Steps Down

    At the finish line of its sale to 1091 Media, distributor the Orchard’s film and TV head Paul Davidson is parting ways with the company. In an amicable split, the creative executive addressed staff in person and in a company-wide memo on Tuesday in New York City to inform them of his decision. More Reviews [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content