A rebellious young woman (Kalki Koechlin) with cerebral palsy has her heart broken, leaves India to study in New York and embarks on a bitter-sweet journey of self-discovery.
There is much you want to applaud in Shonali Bose’s Margarita With A Straw. And it has to be said – it does have its pluses and you appreciate the fact that the film also sensitively ventures into areas that Indian films don’t otherwise get into such as the exploration of sexual desire in differently abled people. However, a labored, heavy handed second half stops the film from finally being there.
What stands out in this film is the the self-respect and streak of independence (and I’m not talking of literal physical independence) that Bose infuses her protagonist with. She slowly but surely draws you into Laila’s world and around, and does have you rooting for her. And for once, I have to say it – Kalki Koechlin finally comes into her own with a fine sensitive performance that captures every mood and emotion her character goes through, perfectly. Bose also scores in the handling of the relationships of her central characters with each other, creating many small poignant, humorous, heart-warming moments in the film, especially between Revathy and Koechlin.
That said, the script has its share of issues, especially in its plotting, falling into the trap of being episodic and becoming conveniently event driven rather than character driven, especially in its key turning points. Bose and co-writer (and co-director) Nilesh Maniyar bite off a little more than they can chew as we have to deal with one too many disabilities, a terminal disease, and an exploration of sexual identity that leads to the labored heavy-handedness mentioned earlier. Merely putting in more into a film doesn’t necessary make a film complex. It’s how the elements are weaved together into making a coherent narrative and here’s where the film finds its steps faltering. In fact, for all the asides, there are many a time when you find yourself wondering whether the film is coming across as little more than Laila and her sexual desire. Barring the three central women roles, whom Bose invests a lot in, you also do wish the other characters were better fleshed out as none of them really come alive in the film. Jared’s character (William Mosely), for instance, all too conveniently vanishes and is suddenly put back in to create a complication because the makers felt they needed one.
Still, the three central performances do lift the film a notch or two. No doubt, this is a career defining role for Koechlin and she gives it all she’s got (which for the first time, you realize is actually a lot), while Sayani Gupta makes a pretty strong impression. Revathy is reliably efficient. The other actors, however, are so so at best in sketchily conceived roles they can do little with.
Margarita With a Straw has its heart in the right place and does have its share of moments. It also benefits greatly from a really good central act by its leading lady. But finally, the film does leave you wanting that something more after its running time is over.
Hindi, English, Drama, Color