Sunday, April 19, 2015

Margarita With A Straw Review

Teenage has been one beautifully complex subject of observation for many filmmakers. And everyone has tried to observe it through different prisms. Shonali Bose makes her subject a bit more complex. Her subject of character study is Layla- a 19 year old girl from Delhi who is on a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. 

In the initial introductory minutes of her and her family (which is altogether another characterization- a Maharashtrian mother and a Sikh father does tell that theirs was a love marriage and so open that even their school-going young son knows about the other marriage proposal that his father had had), we know she has artistic instincts- she pens lyrics for college band, has her own compositions too- and likes to play chess. We are told all this with no sympathetic tone. Just as any other teenager would be introduced. When one tries to cast that demeaning sympathetic eye on her- like that jury from the band competition who awards her band just because the lyricist is, well, a disabled person, the jury member or anyone with that view gets a fitting middle finger reply there. 

That wall of prejudice is broken. Now what? Now you are back to a character of a simple 19 year old girl. Bose goes deeper. She explores her as any other teenage girl. She lets Layla explore her world. And like any other teenager, we see Layla having her first kiss, falling in love, getting heartbroken and, later in the film, breaking a heart.

This sounds like just another teenage story, and one might ask, so what was the point of putting her on a wheelchair? The question then answers itself. As paradoxical it may sound, there was indeed no point and that was exactly the point. Why can't she be on a wheelchair? And with this point, the film makes its point against the indifference with the disabled in the society. Sure, her being on the wheelchair demands empathy from the audience and also helps to evoke the necessary pathos, but Bose cleverly uses this to tell us a regular story (at least on the surface) with her not-so-regular characters. And even with this, she constantly pushes the boundaries of what a regular audience is habitual to see on an Indian screen as she is telling the story. How else would she have managed to show a female masturbating on screen? Bose addresses the sexual awakening of an Indian girl which was long pending to be portrayed. 

And she does not stop there. Enter Khanum- another character whose complex depth is just layered by her ethnicity and appearance alone. She is a) of Pakistani-Bangladeshi origin, b) blind. Another filmmaker would have created a disturbed character out of her, here she is celebratory, in joie de vivre. Her collision with Layla happens in a tensed scene- in a protest (which is a metaphoric scene in a way: both break from the smoke of tear gas fired by law-abiding police and we find them sitting in isolation)- which gives way to their later interactions that take very poetic, pure and a beautiful form (Sayani Gupta is brilliant with her sensuality and sensitivity as Khanum, and Kalki as Layla can be a masterclass for actors). We are told more about Khanum then that she is also, c) lesbian. She comes across as one piece of work who deserves one independent story. Her entry was necessary to let Layla discover herself. 

And when Layla finds herself that she is bisexual, she has to confess this to her aai (mother) whom she has always confided in. Revathy brings in that part with lovely mother-figure warmth. When Layla had confessed about her first crush on a boy in college while she was being bathed by her, aai gets wary at first and then smilingly talks like a friend. When Layla asks for her privacy after her mother has discovered that she has been surfing porn sites lately, her mother's answer is "Mujhse privacy chahiye tumhe?". Well, nothing about Layla was ever private from her. And in a reversal scene when Layla is making her mother bath after she has returned from New York more evolved, she confesses about her another love- this time a woman. Things don't go down well with her mom and with the film which takes an abrupt turn and it stops being what it was trying to be all the way. Or maybe, after that point, the film gets more evolved too and tries to make a bigger point of loving yourself before loving any man or woman. 

The film ends with a Rumi quote "The wound is the place where Light enters you". Layla had that wound which, obviously, was neither her disability nor her sexuality as perceived.

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