Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) is a moving coming-of-age film. Its journey of discovery and self-love is tender and emotionally fulfilling. It also wrestles with important issues such as disability, inclusion, and sexuality. Unfortunately, its plot feels confused and convoluted at points, its second half lacking in a clear progression of story and satisfying conclusion. It’s also important to point out that, though the film is about disabled characters and therefore depicts an underrepresented community, the actors who play the disabled characters are non-disabled actors. As a whole though, the film is very sweet to watch.
Margarita with a Straw tells the story of Laila Kapoor (Kalki Koechlin), a young Indian woman with cerebral palsy. When she gets admitted to New York University, she moves from India to New York so she can attend the school. At a protest, Laila meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a young woman who’s blind. Laila goes through a journey of discovery about her sexuality when she develops romantic feelings for Khanum. Though she has had romantic feelings toward men before, she’s never been in a relationship and she’s never fallen for a woman. She and Khanum together are incredibly sweet.
This is the first half of the film, which I thought was done wonderfully. However, the second half of the film seemed to throw plot points out left and right without really making its way to a clear and satisfying conclusion. Laila cheats on Khanum with a man, a move which feels both out of character and falls directly into the “cheating bisexual” trope. Laila and Khanum go to India, where they act as though they’re just friends because Laila is certain her family won’t approve.
When she does come out to her mother (Revathi), her mother acts disgusted, but then there is very little follow-up on the issue. Then, Laila’s mother is admitted to the hospital in dire condition. Though it has been hinted at that Laila’s mother is sick throughout the film, this is the first time that it becomes a major plot point and it feels somewhat out of place. The film ends with Laila’s mother dying and Khanum being there for Laila. Finally, the film concludes with Laila dressing up and going on a “date.” We see that she’s achieved a version of self-love and is having dinner by herself as the film ends.
Where the beginning of the film felt like it had a clear progression and a gentle sweetness, the second half of the film twisted and turned and never really felt like it made its way to a full conclusion what with the many plotlines thrown about.
Then, there is the issue of the fact that two of the main characters of the film are disabled women, played by non-disabled actors. While I can’t speak directly on the issue as I’m not part of the disabled community, it is generally thought that disabled roles should always be played by disabled actors. While Koechlin’s portrayal of a woman with cerebral palsy feels quite authentic, the character is disabled and she is not; therefore, the character should be played by a disabled actress.
Margarita with a Straw includes representation that is quite rare to see onscreen: the main character is a queer, disabled, Indian woman and she falls in love with a queer, disabled, Pakistani woman. Though it has its issues, it is, at its heart, a very tender and emotional film.