×

Film Review: ‘Margarita, With a Straw’

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

With:
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

  • Venice Opener

    Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 'The Truth' to Open Venice Film Festival

    Palme d’Or-winning director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s hotly anticipated new film, “The Truth,” starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, will open the 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival. “The Truth,” which marks the director’s first work set outside his native Japan, will screen on Aug. 28 in competition. Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or at [...]

  • it chapter two, comic con

    Comic-Con: 4500 Gallons of Fake Blood and Everything Else to Know About 'It Chapter Two''

    Comic-Con 2019 kicked off with a stacked presentation from the director and cast of “It Chapter Two” on Wednesday, inspiring a curious amount of joy at San Diego’s Spreckles Theater in spite of the abject terror offered up by the film. The closing chapter to 2017’s record-obliterating “It,” the highest grossing R-rated horror film of [...]

  • 'Between Me and My Mind' Review:

    Film Review: Trey Anastasio in 'Between Me and My Mind'

    Trey Anastasio doesn’t look like a rock star. With his thick rimless glasses and flop of sandy red hair, you might say he resembles John Sebastian, but really, he looks like a mashup of Mike White and Jon Cryer and the filmmaker Chris Smith. He’s an appealingly ordinary shaggy-geek dude, like some guy you might [...]

  • Photo taken July 18, 2019, from

    More Than 20 Feared Dead in Arson Attack on Japan's Kyoto Animation

    UPDATED: More than 20 people are feared to have died Thursday in an arson attack on the Kyoto Animation company in Japan, shocking a nation in which extreme violence is very rare. Emergency services in Kyoto City received a call about 10:35 a.m. local time Thursday reporting an explosion on the first floor of the [...]

  • sith trooper

    Sith Trooper Revealed From 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

    “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” revealed a new storm trooper uniform Wednesday at San Diego Comic Con as part of a special exhibit celebrating the evolution of the storm trooper design. Dubbed the Sith trooper, the new uniform sports all-red armor plates with a matching red and black blaster. Also decorating the armor is [...]

  • Dunkirk

    Harry Styles Is the Perfect Prince Eric; Why He'd Rock 'Little Mermaid' Role

    Could Harry Styles be the perfect Prince Eric? One day after the announcement that the One Direction star is “in early negotiations to play the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ role,” the internet exploded with speculation as to how he would portray the object of Ariel’s affections. “I can see lots of reasons why Harry is perfect,” [...]

  • The Lion King

    Film News Roundup: PETA Sponsors Rescued Lion in Jon Favreau's Name

    In today’s film news roundup, PETA honors Jon Favreau for “The Lion King,” “Tigers Are Not Afraid” gets a theatrical release, a Kirk Franklin biopic is in development and “The Sixth Sense” gets an anniversary showing in Philadelphia. HONOR The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sponsoring a rescued lion to honor director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content