By Smitha Ruth:
There is a beautiful scene in ‘Margarita With A Straw‘. After frenzied nights of writing lyrics, mid night chats with the budding crush who is the main singer and the final presentation of the song during the college festival, Laila’s (the protagonist) team wins the coveted prize. Laila is euphoric, with the song, her newfound attraction, and the success of the prize. She is on stage with the others who won the prize – but in her wheelchair, the only disabled body on stage. In their shared joy, she is one with the rest. But, suddenly, the chief guest who is giving away the prize calls out her name, points to her disability and in her sugary sweet, kind voice, asks her to say a few words, not as the writer of the lyrics, but as the ‘disabled’ writer of lyrics. Laila is hurt, humiliated and angry. Her only response – a raised middle finger to the pity from this hypocritical world.
I remember a friend of mine who was teaching in a school for kids living with disability. She would make fun of the charity based approach that the teachers had towards these children where they would always pity those ‘unfortunately blighted lives‘. She was almost angry when she spoke about the teachers and her words, dripping with sarcasm, actually made me aware of something terrible that we, who think of ourselves as “sensitive” are capable of – that we could be so cruel in our sensitivities!
The film is beautiful precisely because it places disability within the contemporary moment in urban India with the problems and bonding that the yuppie generation of today has with their parents. The film is as much about female sexuality as it is about disability. It is a coming of age film – the protagonist, discovering her body with its desires. And, what she sees, as she says in one of the scenes, “scares” her. The queerness is there not just in sexual choices but in the queerly disabled bodies and their beautiful desires and explorations.
Because the film portrays disabled female sexuality, which is hardly guilty and out in the open. So out, that the girls can go to a shop and purchase a vibrator so playfully, it becomes that raised middle finger at the world of pitying normalcies. By asserting the protagonist’s problems and desires as not just connected to her disability but never separate from it, the film clearly draws a connection between the abled and the disabled. It points to the fact that not only they (the disabled) but all of us (the so called normal people) can be seen as differently abled. In fact, we inhabit a world filled by differently abled people. By showing the disabled girl finally caring for her ailing mother, who had spent her whole life caring for her, it also shows that care giving, is only a provisional moment in any life. Today, I might be the carer, tomorrow, I might need care.
Kalki has proven beyond doubt that she is one of our finest actors with the courage with which she chose the role and played it to the hilt. The mischievous, exploratory, wild and beautiful Laila will live in the audience’s hearts, for decades to come.