Margarita with a Straw is a 2014 Indian Hindi-language drama film directed by Shonali Bose. It stars Kalki Koechlin as an Indian teenager with cerebral palsy who relocates to America for her undergraduate education and comes of age following her complex relationship with a blind girl, played by Sayani Gupta. Revathi, Kuljeet Singh, and William Moseley play supporting roles. Produced by Bose in partnership with Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Margarita with a Straw was co-written by Bose and Nilesh Maniyar and deals with themes of inclusion, self-acceptance, and human sexuality.
Bose conceived the idea for the film in January 2011, during a conversation with Malini Chib—her cousin and a disability rights activist—about the latter’s desire to have a normal sex life. Inspired by Chib’s story, Bose wrote the first draft of the film’s script. After winning a Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award for the draft, she modified the script to reflect her own perspective, incorporating several personal experiences into the narrative. Bose completed the screenplay with co-writer Maniyar and the advisory council of the Sundance Institute.
Bose was keen to cast an actress with cerebral palsy for the central part, but eventually hired Koechlin, who learnt the movements and speech patterns of people with the disorder. Filming took place in Delhi and New York in 2013, with Anne Misawa as the director of photography. The film was selected for the National Film Development Corporation of India’s Work-in-Progress Lab initiative during post-production, which was completed in the latter half of 2013. The soundtrack for the film was composed by Mikey McCleary.
Margarita with a Straw premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It was also screened at the Tallinn Black Nights, the BFI London, the Vesoul Festival of Asian Cinema, and the Galway Film Fleadh. The film was released theatrically in India on 17 April 2015 to positive reviews. Commentators praised most aspects of the production, Koechlin’s performance, and Bose’s direction. Koechlin won the Screen Award for Best Actress and the National Film Award – Special Jury Award, and Bose won the NETPAC Award at Toronto. Commercially, Margarita with a Straw grossed over ₹74 million against a production budget of ₹65 million.
Laila Kapoor (Kalki Koechlin) is a teenager with cerebral palsy, studying at Delhi University. She is an aspiring writer and also composes music for an indie band at the university. Laila develops feelings for the lead singer, but is heartbroken when she is rejected. Moving on from the experience, Laila is overjoyed to receive a scholarship for a semester’s study at New York University. Despite her father’s reservations, she moves to Greenwich Village, Manhattan with her orthodox Maharashtrian mother Shubhangini Damle (Revathi).
Laila meets an attractive young man named Jared (William Moseley), who is assigned to help her in the creative writing class. She also meets a young activist, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a blind girl of Pakistani-Bangladeshi descent, with whom she falls in love. Laila is enamoured by Khanum’s fiercely independent personality and her positive perspective towards her own disability. The two spend most of their time together, filling in as each other’s caregivers. Laila becomes confused about her sexual orientation, as she is attracted to men—Jared in particular—while being in a serious relationship with Khanum. She has sex with Jared, only to regret it immediately. Laila does not tell Khanum about this encounter. Oblivious to her daughter’s relationship with Khanum, Laila’s mother invites Khanum to Delhi to spend the winter vacation with Laila’s family.
Laila ultimately finds the courage to come out to her mother about her sexuality and her relationship with Khanum, both of which her mother strongly disapproves. Laila also confesses to Khanum that she had sex with Jared and asks for her forgiveness. Feeling betrayed by Laila, Khanum breaks up with her and leaves for New York. Shubhangini is diagnosed with advanced colon cancer which has relapsed after previous treatments. Laila and she move past their differences while Laila tends to her at the hospital. The two eventually reconcile shortly before Shubhangini’s death. Laila plays a song (recorded by Shubhangi) at Shubhangini’s funeral telling how much she loved her and how she was the only one who ever understood her. Laila is later seen drinking a margarita.
Credits adapted from Rotten Tomatoes.
Kalki Koechlin as Laila Kapoor
Revathi as Shubhangini Kapoor
Sayani Gupta as Khanum
Kuljeet Singh as Laila’s father
Hussain Dalal as Dhruv
William Moseley as Jared
Malhar Khushu as Monu
Tenzin Dalha as Nima
Shuchi Dwivedi as Sameera
Doug Plaut as Rob
Jennifer Silverstein as Nancy
Marco Torriani as Charles