Margarita is an intoxicating cocktail made of tequila with orange and lemon flavor. It can be served in any traditional Margarita glass or a wine glass. But when served with special straw to a charming and naughty 19 year old, Laila, it can be heady and fun but far from perfect.
Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is 19, ready to fall in love and get laid. When curious, she drags her best pal, to a college classroom and kisses him. When horny, she logs on to a porn site and pleasures herself. At a shop, she naughtily asks for a vibrator and laughs when the shopkeeper frantically talks about cellphones. Attracted to a hot Assamese singer, she experiences her first heartbreak.
Both Laila and we don’t care within the first 15 minutes of Margarita With a Straw, that she is not “normal”. Laila is not just another adolescent on the threshold of love and sex. She is a wheelchair bound girl with Cerebral Palsy. When reminded of her condition in a pitiful manner at college competition, she simply shows the teacher her middle finger.
That’s exactly what the film attempts, in effect. It challenges the Indian conditioned thinking in a subject matter that most films shy away from; that of exploring one’s sexuality.
The story reaches this point when Laila goes to New York to pursue a scholarship in music and falls in love with a blind Pakistani girl, Khanum. Laila has her first drink on her first date: Margarita. When Khanum moves sensually with the music and dances with wheelchair bound Laila, it certainly becomes a dream date to remember, albeit cliched.
More so, when the two make love the first time. The scene is not just limited to a tender kiss. And that is a first for the Indian censor board itself. The writer, director, co producer, Shonali Bose (her first film was Amu), along with her co-writer-director, Nilesh Maniyar take this beyond a single lovemaking scene. This time, Laila’s lover is a cute English guy (William Moseley). The execution on camera, is simply bold and beautiful.
So far, so good. The scenes are short and sweet. The story is centered on Laila exploring her sexuality. Until the one and only conflict, comes along: her mother’s (Revathy) acceptance.
Laila’s mother has been introduced all along as a feisty Marathi lady who drops her Sikh husband to work and Laila to college every day, in a huge van. She bathes Laila and combs her hair into a neat ponytail and irritates her now and then by breaking into her privacy.
But when it comes to this first and strangely, only conflict in the plot, it gets resolved too easily. In fact, Laila seems to get everything she wants -- faster than Cinderella with wings.
The events move as smoothly as the wheels of her chair. The director attempts not to make a big deal of Laila’s challenges of being handicapped. Small scenes of her getting stuck without a lift in India or in snow in New York, thankfully don’t create unnecessary melodrama. Even when Laila falls (twice), it’s in sheer joy. But this tendency to show Laila’s life like any other, gets overdone to such an extent that everything ends up as more than a bisexual, multiple cakewalk rather than a journey.
Another development concerning the mother, completely digresses from the story and ends up as an easy cop out, eventually. We never really get to know Laila’s lover, Khanum. Who is she, other than blind and gay? Why would Laila fall for her? For a script, honed at a prestigious Sundance Lab, these are glaring loopholes in a very simplistic plot.
Kalki brings in a lovely, fresh approach with a very endearing open-mouthed smile and a brilliant speech default delivery, but occasionally drops the character and look, especially in silent scenes. Revathy as the mother easily shocked by her daughter, is understated and a delight. Kuljit Singh as the Sikh father matches Revathy’s intensity. Sayani Gupta as a gay lover, is convincing within her limited role. It helps that she is a stunner with a seductive voice.
For its very originality and brave attempt, Margarita With a Straw is as sweet and seductive as the drink. Cheers to the coming of sexuality age stories.
It’s a happy hour in Indian cinema.