‘Margarita, with a Straw’, directed by Shonali Bose and starring Kalki Koechlin, is a moving story depicting the life and journey of self-discovery of Leila, a young, stubborn and ambitious woman with cerebral palsy (CP). The movie illustrates the reality of how Leila navigates her life with the physical challenges she faces, along with her relationship with her family, finding romance with a young blind woman, and how she must learn to love herself.
Bose was inspired to make this movie after a meeting with her cousin, who has CP, and discussing her sexuality. In general, the sexuality of individuals with disabilities is rarely addressed, let alone in the South Asian community which therefore sparked Bose’s inspiration to make a truly unique story. Bose’s casting of Kalki Koechlin also proved successful as Koechlin dedicated six-weeks training with an acting coach, as well as meeting with those in the community, in order to get the correct body language/movements and speech patterns of those with CP.
This film was particularly emotional for me as my younger sister also has CP, to a similar extent as Leila. While I can’t speak on behalf of others in the CP community, I can speak on the behalf of myself, my family, and most importantly my sister, who has scarcely seen girls like her reflected on screen. What is most refreshing is that the film does not tick the regular boxes of a movie about someone with disability, in that it is something that is short-term, eventually overcome, and is placed as a plot device for ‘inspiration’. ‘Margarita, with a Straw’ does not shy away from reality, explores Leila’s budding sexuality as a young woman, and does not let her disability define her entire story.
My experience watching this movie with my sister was an emotional one and demonstrated how important inclusive representation is in film. Something as simple as seeing Leila interacting with her family members on screen with a similar dynamic as our family sparked a happiness that I had never seen in my sister. She felt seen and most importantly, was able to relate to the story, to some extent, and the character’s life. She knew the feeling of not being understood when trying to communicate with others and them brushing her off when it became difficult. She could see Leila’s frustration and desire of wanting to be treated as a young adult, to live her own life and not be dependent on others – trust me I’ve seen her complain about being treated like a baby a thousand times. But most importantly, she was represented in an accurate and honest way that didn’t serve to pity someone like her or to condescendingly claim to be ‘inspiring’.
‘Margarita, with a Straw’ is, in a nutshell, a romantic comedy and so much more than Leila’s personal struggles and challenges. It is a coming-of-age story and a story about a young woman’s journey of self-love. The need for accurate and representative stories is more important now than ever before, and it is truly refreshing to the South Asian film industry go in a more inclusive direction in its storytelling.
‘Margarita, with a Straw’ is available to watch on Netflix.