Who are you? What interests you? What makes you happy? What is your sexuality? Who do you lust for? Are you even happy with yourself? These are a few of the many questions Laila (Kalki Koechlin) in “Margarita, With a Straw” helps us explore.
Shown at the opening night of the New York Indian Film Festival in May, Shonali Bose’s film is a home run for this year’s long-line of Bollywood star-studded releases. From a stellar cast to a captivating storyline that highlights a disorder with great sensitivity and realness, “Maragrita With a Straw” is worth the 120 minutes of your time.
Laila is a 19-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with Cerebral Palsy, but her inner strength, free-spirit and dynamic personality, she never lets her disorder come in the way. As the movie begins, we see how determined Laila is to be an independent young woman and go about her daily life, whether it is drinking a margarita through a straw at a pub (yes, the film’s headline is literally seen in the movie) or traveling to New York City to pursue her education.
She lives with her caring mother, father and brother, who are fully supportive of Laila and her ambitiousness. She attends Delhi University, creates beats for a band and even has a make-out session in the back of a classroom (we bet you didn’t see that coming in a Bollywood movie, but Bose doesn’t hold back, especially in the friskiness department)!
Laila’s desires and the people she lusts for or loves are integral to the film. Without giving too much away, she is also seen listening to porn, which surpsinngly or not, was portrayed gracefully by the ever stunning Koechlin.
A few scenes in the movie also show Laila on Facebook messenger and Skype, communicating as any millennial would.
After getting her heart broken by the “cool” boy (Dalha) she likes from her band, Laila learns about rejection, just like the rest of us have. She then decides to pursue college somewhere else and takes up the opportunity to accept a scholarship to New York University in NYC.
Here, she befriends Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a visually impaired woman she meets at a rally in Manhattan. After a sultry and beautiful scene of love-making and a growing friendship, Laila falls in love with her female friend, realizing she may swing both ways, she does not hesitate to stop discovering her body and the feelings she has for Khanum.
Throughout the movie, the bond between her mother, Shubhangini (Revathy) and Laila is heartwarming, a relationship many of us have with our mothers or want. Needless to say, when Laila decides to open up to her mother about being bisexual, it’s a pivotal moment in the film’s plot, giving us more insight on the mother’s emotions and thoughts. Whether she accepts her daughter’s sexuality or not is something you have to wait and see.
One takeaway from the film is cast of brilliant actors who did not set any boundaries for themselves. Be it love-making or simple day-to-day tasks, the actors, especially, Koechlin, made sure they stayed true to their character’s essence. Koechlin fully embraced the movements, speech and thoughts of a person with Cerebral Palsy. She did not hesitate to go the extra mile to look natural in her role.
(Shameless plug: We were lucky enough to chat with Koechlin and Bose during a Blog Talk Radio session, hosted by the South Asian Journalists Association and South Asians in Media, Marketing & Entertainment. Listen to the enthralling 58-minute episode here, conducted by SAJA board member Divya Singaravelu.)
During the screening post discussion, Bose was not afraid to share funny and intriguing anecdotes about where the idea for the film came from, (which is her cousin Malini, also a Cerebral Palsy patient) and moments from the set. Bose also shared a conversation between her and her son, Ishan, which surrounded self-discovery; about being your own hero and understanding that you need to be able to say “I have me!” But his passing caused Bose to look at this movie as a way to keep her son’s spirit shining.
Bose went on to say that 70 percent of actresses who originally auditioned for the out-of-the-box Bollywood film said “no” to playing the role of Laila, simply because the character was bi-sexual. Koechlin, on the other hand, very bravely and brilliantly took this as an opportunity to unmask truths about a disorder not highlighted in mainstream culture, especially in South Asia. Not to mention, she received the Best Actress award at this year’s NYIFF.
This movie clearly shows that even an individual with a disability feels the same emotions happiness and sadness as anyone else would because they are no different. Their hearts and thoughts are processed the same way; they too want to be accepted for who they are and struggle to not feel ostracized by society.
“Margarita, With a Straw” brings situations to light that are usually seen as taboo, including sexuality, disability and pre-marital sex. If you want to see a film that is unafraid to tell a raw, heartwarming story with a compelling cast of characters, then this film is the perfect dose of new-age Bollywood.
Sindhuri Bhimavarapu is a writer, lover of all things pure-hearted and a fan of exceptionally made coffee. She aims to inspire and motivate young women around the globe. Among her achievements are graduating from Stony Brook University with a degree in Economics and writing rap, which can be considered “Jay-Z” material. She enjoys light reading on modern economics, current events, and latest business ventures. Sindhuri finds happiness in the simple things in life, occasionally indulging in Chipotle. She’s also responsible for updating Brown Girl’s Instagram account daily.
“Thank You For Coming” is a one-of-a-kind Bollywood film that is not only a through-and-through entertainer but also an inspiring story about a young woman, Kanika Kapoor (played by ace actress Bhumi Pednekar), who sets out to seek pleasure in bed; and, she’s not settling for anything less!
The film premiered at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival to an audience that was impressed with so many facets of the film — the comic timing of the impeccable cast, the subject matter of female pleasure, and the fantastic direction by debutant Karan Boolani — just to name a few!
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.