Shonali Bose comes back to direction with a dhamaka. Here’s how her latest offering is…
Before I write down the review, let me thank a few people without whom I never would have the chance to review this little gem of a film. Firstly, the Censor Board, for not massacring the film for its bold content. Secondly, the film’s distributors for finally bringing the movie to our screens. After all, films that earn high praise in international film festivals hardly get a proper release here. If in doubt about this fact, have a word with the makers of Dekh India Circus and Liar’s Dice. Now, let’s get down to the review…
What’s it about
Margarita With A Straw is a slice of life narrative about Laila’s (Kalki Koechlin
) search to find sexual acceptance within herself. As the trailers already told you, Laila is not a normal girl by looks – she suffers from cerebral palsy, and needs help even to visit the bathroom. But her parents (Revathy and Kuljeet Singh) and friends never let her feel like an outcast. Her friends admire her talent in composing music for their band. Margarita, however, yearns to explore herself sexually but her condition doesn’t allow her to spread her wings. When her crush, their band’s lead singer, rebuffs her, she goes into depression and doesn’t want to return to college. To lift her spirits, her mother allows her to go to New York to complete her studies. There she meets a good looking college-mate, Jared, with whom she is immediately smitten with, and Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a blind lesbian, who leads Laila into journey of self-exploration. The director has based this movie on her own cousin, who suffers a similar affliction.
The film is unlike any other film made in Bollywood. After all, which mainstream Hindi film has a lead, who is wheelchair-bound all the time and has trouble making proper speech, as well having same-sex tendencies? Right from the opening scene, where Revathy is shown driving her family around in a wobbly van, while her husband is sitting next to her, singing Punjabi ditties – you know you are in for something different. The first half of the film is mesmerising, as Laila breezes through various odds in her personal life, before she meets Khanum. The sex scenes are tastefully done, though I am not sure if the Censors did any kind of tinkering in there. Shonali’s Bose’s direction is fine, as she expertly handles certain mature content and relationship subtext, though she does falter her and there. The music gels well with the narrative.
Moving on to the performances, the acting is top-notch, especially Kalki, Sayani Gupta and Revathy. Revathy has yet again proven her vesatility as a loving mother, whose sweet smile envelops all worries, while her silent glances hides a different darker secret. Sayani Gupta, in her first major role in a Hindi film, shines. However, the film belongs to Kalki. I am not an auteur on cerebral paralysis, so I am not sure how exactly the afflicted people behave. But you can never have any such doubt when you see Kalki’s performance. It’s very difficult to distinguish the actor from the character, and she needs to be hailed for attempting such a role, which many mainstream heroines would never even dare to touch. I am sure she has her name cemented in the top of the awards list next year.
As much I hate to say it, the movie, like many other Hindi films, suffers from a tepid second half. The narrative lags here at many points, making us feel that the director had said everything she wanted in the first half itself, and has little left to say here. The additional sub-plot of an affliction one of Laila’s loved ones suffer, feels forced just to insert more drama in the proceedings. The editors could have worked up a bit in these sequences. Also, I had this little nagging feeling that the entire movie is Kalki’s and Shonali’s take on Deepika Padukone’s Vogue video. There could have been a bit more exploration on the other aspects of Laila’s life, apart from her sexuality. After all, is sexuality the only determining factor for spreading one’s wings? Also certain sequences are added only for cliché purposes, like the award ceremony for the Rock Band competition (too cringe worthy!) and the protests in New York (no purpose, other than a plot device to meet two characters).
What To Do
I admit I had more expectations from MWAS, especially after the glowing reviews it had received from almost everyone in Bollywood. But that shouldn’t stop me from recommending this movie as a definite must-watch this weekend. After all, don’t we always complain about the lack of quality films in Bollywood? Margarita…may not be a masterpiece, but it certainly has its straw…sorry, heart in its right place!
Rating: out of 5