A road less travelled

Offbeat cinema

Director Shonali Bose’s newest feature film Margarita, With A Straw won the NETPAC award for Best Asian Film at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival this year.

The jury described it as “both universal and groundbreaking”. The film recently screened at the 19th Busan International Film Festival and will be shown at the London Film Festival later this month. The Hindi and English language film starring Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta and William Moseley (Chronicles of Narnia lead actor) is an unusual coming of age story told through a protagonist confined to a wheelchair. Bose’s earlier work includes the 2005 release Amu, based on the 1984 Sikh riots, and as co-writer of Chittagong (2012), based on the Chittagong armoury raid of 1930. 

Here is an exerpt from the interview with Bose, who spoke to Sunday Herald: 

What can you tell us about Margarita, With a Straw? 

It is the story of Laila (Koechlin), a spunky, talented teenager from a middle-class Delhi family. She is born with cerebral palsy. Her speech is distorted and she sits in a wheelchair. Laila’s heart is broken in Delhi University and her mother (Revathy), for reasons of her own, enables her to transfer to NYU, US. Here, Laila meets the feisty Khanum and the chilled out dude Jared. Always curious about sexuality, Laila never dreamed that she would actually experience it. Laila and Khanum go home to India at the end of the semester. Secrets and lies surround everyone and ultimately become meaningless in the face of death. There has never been a character such as Laila portrayed anywhere in the world. We are used to having pity for disabled characters, or admiration as they triumph all odds. Margarita’s honest treatment of its disabled characters pulls the rug from under your feet and shakes you up.

What were the challenges you faced in casting and making a film on such an unconventional subject that marries two sensitive issues — physical disability and sexual awakening? Nilesh Maniyar did brilliant casting. The challenge was finding our second lead, Khanum (played by Sayani Gupta). The rest were easy. I know this subject matter really well. I spent two years writing and rewriting the script with Nilesh to perfect it before we got onto set. It comes down to the craft of the screenplay and then the craft of directing your actors to embody those characters. 

In what way is Margarita representative of your style? Or, is it a departure in any way from your previous film, Amu?

My first film, Amu, was a personal story based on the 1984 genocide. It won two National Awards (Best Picture, Best Film) and opened at the Berlin Film Festival followed by TIFF. My style is deeply personal films which are based on an issue or problem that the society faces.

What do you think about the portrayal of physical disability in Indian films?As with any subject, there are the good films and there are the bad films, clichéd, ridiculous portrayals and sensitive nuanced ones. I loved Taare Zameen Par, Barfi, Khamoshi and Sparsh.

What are the plans for releasing Margarita, With A Straw?

Viacom18 is releasing the film nationwide in early 2015. I am extremely excited about this. Amu and Chittagong (co-writer) deserved to get big releases as they were loved by whichever audience watched them. But they didn’t. I am grateful and excited to get a good release for Margarita. I have complete faith in Indian audiences, once they get into the theatre (with all three of my films). It’s just a matter of cracking the right marketing — to get people to buy that ticket! Globally, we have sold for a mainstream theatrical in Japan and are in discussion for the UK and US releases. Others will follow. This is as much an international film as it is Indian.

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