Everyone longs to be loved. It’s in our human nature to want to feel connected to someone on a deep emotional level. We all want those people in our lives that know us better than ourselves, the ones we can be completely vulnerable with. As they say, though, it’s hard to trust someone when you can’t trust or are honest with yourself. In the emotionally moving new film by Shonali Bose, Margarita With a Straw, Laila struggles to be normal, even if normal isn’t what makes her the happiest.
Margarita With a Straw is not your typical love story, for Laila is not the conventional lead. Laila, played with extraordinary elegance by Kalki Koechlin, is a young woman living with cerebral palsy. Koechlin, a well known actress in Bollywood, was not Bose’s first choice as Laila. To be frank, Bose did not even want to consider casing her. It wasn’t until she saw a unique photo of Koechlin that she changed her mind. This film had an emotional connection with Bose, and she was very particular on who she wanted to be in the film, and there was something in that photo that fused with something deep in her soul.
Margarita With a Straw is inspired by her sister, who has cerebral palsy, and one of their many candid conversations with each other. Bose wanted to make a film about her sister living with cerebral palsy, but not in the way most people would expect. She wanted to make a film that touched on normal desires. This film wasn’t going to be about a person with cerebral palsy, it was going to be about a woman who happens to have cerebral pasly.
In order to help Koechlin fully embody the role of Lalia, she spent 6 months with Bose’s sister. This time wasn’t just so she could understand the day to day aspects of living with CP, but who the sister was at her core. It’s because of this time and respect from Koechlin that has made this film breathtaking. You are astounded to realize the lead is played by an able-bodied actress, but also that the fact Lalia has CP doesn’t matter. She is an incredible young woman dealing with things all of us women go through, and she becomes one of the most relatable characters on film in recent years.
The energy Bose poured into Margarita With a Straw is why this film leaves you speechless with affection. It would make sense that Bose was emotionally connected to a story inspired by her sister, but it didn’t start out that way. When beginning the project, she separated herself from the story and instead focused completely on the project with a filmmakers mindset. It wasn’t long until Bose realized her mistake. In disconnecting herself from the story, the story became hollow and uninspired.
The stories Bose creates are on a different plane than most. It’s more about the connection she can create with her stories and characters than it is about the sensationalism of the plot. Film is a way for diverse people to come together and experience something unique, and unless you put your whole self into the project, that’s not possible. Bose was able to be completely vulnerable as a storyteller, which allowed her character and story to equal that vulnerability in truth.
Koechlin isn’t the only powerful actor in the film. The two actors who play Laila’s romantic connections present an unreserved freedom on screen that is welcomed. Khanum (Sayani Gupta) is a woman Lalia meets during a protest in New York who ends up becoming her girlfriend. This relationship is not hindered by CP or Khanum’s blindness, but instead focuses on the emotional connection between two people who can look past each other’s outer obstacles. For Jared (William Moseley), Lalia’s partner in her college writing course, their relationship is based on friendship and vulnerability. Both these relationships are beautifully constructed to represent the desired bond between human beings we all crave.
Just as it was important for Koechlin to spend time researching for her role, Gupta did the same. She spent time with a person who happened to be blind, to understand the day to day challenges and aspects of this trait. However, it wasn’t until Bose introduced Gupta to meditation that the character of Khanum flourished. Bose says that mediation allowed Gupta to open herself up to the enlightened world around her, creating a realm for her character to exist beyond herself.
These three actors also participated in an Intimacy Training workshop before filming. This workshop would be thought by many to involve the impairments portrayed in this film, but they would be wrong. Instead Bose wanted her actors to be comfortable with the intimate scenes in the film. Filming scenes like these are never easy on film, but the real challenge comes with portraying them with sincerity attached to the overall story. Bose also participated, which allowed the actor to not only be comfortable with themselves but also that she would be able to bring forth a tranquility with the scenes.
Margarita With a Straw is a film that embraces several themes; honest in self, what is normal, and forming intense connections. Each one is shown with reverence, allowing for the vitality that they possess to captivate the audience. It becomes a film that is not overwhelmed with physical limitations, but instead focuses on the limitations we place on our own self. Bose has created a beautiful film anyone can find strength from.
Margarita With a Straw is available in theaters and VOD via Wolfe Video on all platforms on June 14th and on DVD on June 28th.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Matt Johnstone Publicity