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Margarita with a Straw

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Margarita with a Straw
Margarita, with a Straw - poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Shonali Bose
Produced by Shonali Bose
Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
Written by Shonali Bose
Nilesh Maniyar
Starring Kalki Koechlin
Revathi
Sayani Gupta
William Moseley
Music by Mikey McCleary
Cinematography Anne Misawa
Edited by Monisha Baldawa
Production
company
Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
Release date
  • 8 September 2014 (2014-09-08) (Toronto)
  • 17 April 2015 (2015-04-17) (India)
Running time
100 minutes
Country India
Language Hindi
English
Budget 65 million
Box office 74 million

Margarita with a Straw is a 2014, Indian drama film directed by Shonali Bose. It stars Kalki Koechlin as Laila, a teenager with cerebral palsy who moves from New Delhi to Greenwich village for her undergraduate education and comes of age following her complex relationship with a blind girl, played by Sayani Gupta. Produced by Bose in partnership with Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, the film was co written by Bose and Nilesh Maniyar and deals with the themes of an inclusive environment, self-acceptance, and human sexuality. Margarita with a Straw had Revathi and William Moseley play supporting roles.

In January 2011, Shonali Bose conceived the idea for the film script during a causal conversation with Malini Chib—her cousin and a disability rights activist—about the latter's desire to have a normal sex life. Bose wrote the first draft of the script with Chib serving as the inspiration for the central character. Although she won a Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award for the initial draft, Bose later modified the script to reflect her own perspective, incorporating into the narrative several of her personal experiences. She completed the screenplay with co-writer Nilesh Maniyar and the advisory council of the Sundance Institute.

Pre-production work began when Kalki Koechlin was cast in the role of Laila; Bose had auditioned actors with cerebral palsy for the role but was unable to come up with desirable results. Koechlin underwent a six month training programme to adapt to the physical movement and speech patterns of the people with cerebral palsy. Filming for the project took place in Delhi and New York in 2013, with Anne Misawa working 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 Mickey McCleary.

Margarita with a Straw had its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. The film garnered positive reviews at such international film festivals as the Tallinn Black Nights; the BFI London; the Vesoul Festival of Asian Cinema; and the Galway Film Fleadh, among others. The film released theatrically in India on April 17, 2015, to critical acclaim. Commentators praised most aspects of the production, with particular emphasis on Koechlin's performance and Bose's direction. The duo garnered several accolades including the Screen Award for Best Actress and the National Film Award (Jury) (both for Koechlin), and the NETPAC Award at Toronto (for Bose). The film did moderately well at the box office grossing over 74 million against a production budget of 65 million.

Plot

Laila (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 (Revathi).

Laila meets an attractive young man named Jared (Moseley), who is assigned to help her in the creative writing class. She also meets a young activist, Khanum (Gupta), a blind girl of Pakistani Bangladeshi descent, whom she falls in love with. 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 develops a confusion 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 on one occasion, only to regret it immediately. Laila, however, does not tell Khanum about this encounter. Oblivious to her daughter's relationship with Khanum, Laila's mother invites her to Delhi to spend the winter vacation with the family.

Laila ultimately finds the courage to tell her mother about her sexuality and her relationship with Khanum, both of which her mother strongly disapproves of. Laila also confesses to Khanum that she had sex with Jared and asks for her forgiveness. Feeling betrayed by Laila, however, Khanum breaks up with her and leaves for New York. Laila's mother is diagnosed with advanced colon cancer which has relapsed after previous treatments. Laila and her mother move past their differences while Laila tends to her mother at the hospital. The two eventually reconcile shortly before Shubhangini's death. Laila plays a recorded speech at her mother's funeral telling how much she loved her and how she was the only one who ever understood her. She is later seen enjoying a day in the country, all by herself.

Cast

Production

Development and casting

Khanum is so striking, just such a fantastic character. And there was this really boring, British boy who lived in America. When I owned the character, writing from being Laila myself, Laila was like "Are you kidding me!? This is the more interesting person." [...] But I didn't do it consciously thinking, Laila just fell in love with Khanum and it happened organically, not from me wanting to deal with this issue. —Bose on Laila's sexuality[1]

Bose began working on the story in January 2011, on what would have been her son's seventeenth birthday (he had died the year previously). She worked on the first draft extensively for about a month. Although the main character of Laila is based on her cousin Malini Chib, a disability rights activist, the narrative follows closely Bose's own experience of losing a family member. She acknowledged the difficulty of incorporating her personal story into the story, calling it a "tough emotional journey".[2] The idea of working on a film about disability was conceived during a casual conversation between Bose and her aunt (Chib's mother), who wanted her niece to work on a similar project aimed at creating awareness regarding the subject.[1] Having grown up in the same household as Chib, Bose was familiar with the discrimination faced by people with disabilities. She was especially intrigued by the general ignorance exhibited towards the sexuality of people with disabilities, and therefore decided to incorporate this subject matter into the narrative.[3]

Bose later adapted the original draft into a feature film-length script with co-writer Nilesh Maniyar. In 2012, the script won the Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award.[1] As a part of the prize, the duo were awarded mentorships from the Sundance Institute staff and creative advisors, as well as participation in a Feature Film Program Lab, which is where Bose decided to modify the story.[4] After being told by the advisory board that she was "not in the skin of the character", Bose decided to rewrite the script from her own perspective, as opposed to solely trying to incorporate Chib's point of view. She said that it was only after the winning the award that she incorporated—albeit unconsciously—her experiences as a bisexual woman in India into the narrative. Bose and Maniyar worked for two years on the script as it went through over forty revisions before materialising into the final screenplay.[1]

William Moseley plays the love interest for Koechlin's character

Bose originally intended to cast actors with the same disabilities as the characters of Laila and Khanum, her blind lover. Since there were no actresses with cerebral palsy in India, she decided to audition for the role in institutions that catered to patients, but was unable to come up with desirable results. Bose also had a meeting with a blind actress in her early thirties to discuss the role of Khanum, a character she associated herself with. The actress, however, was uncomfortable with the sexual content of the script and ultimately decided against pursuing the role. She nevertheless helped Bose by advising Sayani Gupta, who was eventually cast as Khanum.[3]

Having decided to cast a professional for the part of Laila, Bose approached Kalki Koechlin, who she said was her "first and only choice" for the role. The latter was shooting for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.[5] Due to a clash in schedules, Bose went on to audition other actresses, looking for a substitute for Koechlin, but felt that "something was missing" in each one. She eventually decided to push the filming back for three months to accommodate her first choice.[6] Koechlin admitted to the role being the most challenging of her film career and she took six months off her filming schedule to prepare for it.[7][8] She underwent a six-week training workshop with actor Adil Hussain. The workshop aimed at making her "body language seem natural", while also focusing on the speech pattern of patients with cerebral palsy.[9] Koechlin spent considerable time with Chib and her physiotherapist and speech therapist. She also attended a month-long workshop in Delhi, where she worked on body part movements.[10] Although the film addresses aspects of the challenges of physical disability, Koechlin dubbed it "a romcom within some hurdles".[10] Bose too described the film as a coming-of-age story about a "woman’s journey of finding love".[11][12]

Maniyar, who also served as the casting director for the film, contacted Gupta for the role of Khanum while she was working on the travel show Yeh Hai India Meri Jaan. Immediately drawn to the character, Gupta agreed to audition and was ultimately cast for the role after a lengthy selection process that lasted for about a month.[13] She said in a later interview that she had felt fortunate to have bagged the character of Khanum.[14] To prepare for the role, Gupta stayed blindfolded while doing daily activities such as cooking and bathing. She also attended classes at the National Association for the Blind, where she learned basic Braille and also spent time with a special voice and accent trainer.[15] Revathi, who had previously played a mother to a young child with cerebral palsy in Mani Rathnam's Anjali (1990), agreed to play Laila's mother after reading the script.[16] William Moseley was cast as Jared, a British student in Laila's class who develops a friendship with her.[14]

Filming and post-production

An empty street on a sunny day.
The latter half of the film is set in Greenwich village, New York City

Principal photography for Margarita with a Straw began in 2013 and took place at New Delhi and New York with two separate schedules. University of Southern California alumni Anne Misawa worked as the director of photography.[5][17][18] While the first half of the story is set in the Shri Ram College of Commerce of Delhi University, filming was mainly done at Miranda House.[19] Students and staff members from such institutions as Ramjas College and Lady Shri Ram were involved actively in the project. Tenzin Dalha—a final year political science student from the former—played one of Koechlin's love interests in the film, and Shuchi Dwivedi from the latter played Koechlin's best friend. Other students from the university were cast in the roles of the members of a local band; the band also included Dalha and Dwivedi. Koechlin's father was played by Kuljeet Singh, an English Literature professor from Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College.[19]

Set in the neighbourhood of Greenwich village, the second half of Margarita with a Straw was shot in New York, during the summer.[3] Filming took place at Roosevelt Island and Coney Island.[20][21] Snow machines were used to create the artificial environment required for various sequences set during winter season. The crew also faced difficulties in filming certain scenes. At one point, the van that was used to carry Koechlin in her wheelchair broke down and had to be manually stabilised during the shoo.[22] Prior to the filming of the sex scenes, the cast also attended workshops organised by Rachel Monsoon, to develop a better understanding of emotional and sexual intimacy. Moseley, who was especially anxious about his scenes with Koechlin, attended a workshop conducted by Bose herself.[3] The complete film was shot in two months.[23]

Margarita with a Straw was selected for the National Film Development Corporation of India's Work in Progress Lab initiative during post-production in 2013.[21] It was edited by Monisha Baldawa and the sound mixing was done by Resul Pookutty and Amrit Preetam.[24] Certain scenes with frontal nudity were removed during the editing process to avoid a conflict with the Central Board of Film Certification.[25] Produced by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Ishan Talkies, in association with Jakhotia Group and Adapt, the film's final cut ran for a total of 100 minutes.[24] Bose had funded the project herself as Viacom 18 covered only half of the estimated 65 million production cost.[26] Another partner withdrew financial support around ten days prior to commencement of filming. Bose had to apply for a personal loan to pay the bills, but was able to complete the film with support from the crew members, who agreed to their payments being delayed.[12] The international distribution rights for Margarita with a Straw were acquired up by Wide Management, a Paris-based sales-production-distribution house.[24]

Soundtrack

Margarita with a Straw
Soundtrack album by Mikey McCleary
Released 3 April 2015 (2015-04-03)
Recorded 2015
Genre Feature film soundtrack
Label Zee Music Company
Producer Mikey McCleary

The soundtrack for Margarita with a Straw was composed by music director and singer Mickey McCleary with Joi Barua serving as the guest composer for both versions of the song "Dusokute". The lyrics for the album were written primarily by Prasoon Joshi, with the exception of the tracks, "I Need a Man", and "Don't Go Running Off Anytime Soon", the latter featuring English lyrics written by McCleary. Artists such as Sharmistha Chatterjee; Sonu Kakkar; Anushka Manchanda; Rachel Varghese; Vivienne Pocha; and Rajnigandha Shekhawat provided vocals for the album on various tracks.[27] The first track to be released, the soft rock number "Dusokute", was originally composed by Barua in Assamese and was rewritten in Hindi by Joshi.[28] In April 2015, the complete soundtrack was released under the Zee Music Company label.[27]

Critics such as Kasmin Fernandes and Joginder Tuteja gave positive reviews of the soundtrack's unconventional style.[29][30] The former appreciated Barua's "energetic vocals" in "Dusokute" and the "desi yet classy" number, "Foreign Balamwa" in her 3-out-of-5-star review for The Times of India. She described the lyrics by Joshi as "cheerful", but was less impressed by McCleary's "passable" writing.[29] Tuteja, writing for Bollywood Hungama, noted the album's lack of a commercial appeal and wrote that at best it "fit[s] in well into the stage and setting that the film stands for". Nonetheless, he was appreciative of McCleary's command over the English compositions and his "boyish charm" as a vocalist. Tuteja was particularly impressed by Pocha's "thumping vocals" in "I Need a Man" and the serene effect of the final two tracks of the album. He also found the choice of such artists as Manchanda and Kakkar odd for what he described as an album heavily influenced by Western music.[30] In contrast to this view, Bryan Durham of the Daily News and Analysis praised the duo for their respective tracks describing them as "unusual" and "candid" respectively. He singled out the instrumental number, "Laila's Theme" as "the beating heart of the film".[31]

Track list
No. Title Lyrics Music Singer(s) Length
1. "Dusokute" Prasoon Joshi Joi Barua Joi Barua 2:30
2. "Dusokute (Duet Version)" Prasoon Joshi Joi Barua Joi Barua, Sharmistha Chatterjee 4:41
3. "Foreign Balamwa" Prasoon Joshi Mickey McCleary Sonu Kakkar 2:28
4. "Choone Chali Aasman" Prasoon Joshi Mickey McCleary Rachel Varghese 3:53
5. "Meri Aadat Mera Hissa" Prasoon Joshi Mickey McCleary Anushka Manchanda 2:24
6. "I Need a Man" Mickey McCleary Mickey McCleary Vivienne Pocha 2:45
7. "Don't Go Running Off Anytime Soon" Mickey McCleary Mickey McCleary Mikey Mccleary 2:56
8. "Aai's Aalap" Prasoon Joshi Mickey McCleary Rajnigandha Shekhawat 4:04
9. "Laila's Theme" Mickey McCleary 3:28

Release

Bose at the film's world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival

Margarita with a Straw had its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. The event was attended by the cast and crew, including Bose and Koechlin; the latter said that she was overwhelmed by the response and, "loved to see the audiences cry and laugh with the movie".[32] The film later went on to be presented at film festivals across Europe, including the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival;[11] the BFI London Film Festival;[11] the Galway Film Fleadh;[33] the Vesoul Festival of Asian Cinema;[34] and the Giffoni International Film Festival.[35] Margarita with a Straw had its American premiere at the 2015, Palm Springs International Film Festival.[36] It was screened in Castro Theater at CAAMFest, and shown at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival later that year.[11][37][38] The film opened the 2015, New York Indian Film Festival, and also featured at the 19th Busan International Film Festival and the Istanbul Film Festival.[11] Out on Film, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, and Reeling were among the LGBT events that screened the production.[39][40][41]

After garnering acclaim at the international film festival circuit, the producers of Margarita with a Straw sent it straight to the Central Board of Film Certification. The decision to not send it to any of the major Indian film festivals was looked upon by commentators such as Uma Da Cunha, editor for Film India Worldwide, as a part of a marketing strategy. Srinivasan Narayan, organiser of the Mumbai International Film Festival elaborated that while the Indian film festivals have grown, they have not yet reached a level where they can compete for international premieres.[42] Instead, Margarita with a Straw had pre-released screenings for members of the Indian film industry in Mumbai. Along with the cast and crew of the production, these showings were variously attended by Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan; Aamir Khan; Kiran Rao; Vidya Balan; Anurag Kashyap; and Shraddha Kapoor. The film was positively received at the time, with Bollywood personalities including Khan and Hrithik Roshan going on to host separate special screenings for the film.[43][44][45]

Ahead of its commercial release, the crew organised several promotional events.[46] In an interview with the Indo-Asian News Service, Koechlin talked about the importance of marketing for an independent film, saying that although the content of the films is evolving for the better, Bollywood remains as an industry largely driven by box office gains.[47] Bose wanted the film to be marketed as a commercial one despite its art house appeal; she was not very keen on sending it to film festivals and later asked the producers to avoid mentioning the accolades that the film had won at any of the promotional events.[48] The official trailer was released on 4 March 2015 on Viacom 18 Motion Pictures' official YouTube channel.[49] First look posters featuring Koechlin sipping margaritas using a drinking straw were also unveiled on the same day. The film was released theatrically in India on 17 April 2015.[50]

Reception

Critical reception

Upon release, Margarita with a Straw garnered positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.[51][52][53] Koechlin obtained widespread attention and acclaim for her portrayal of a person with cerebral palsy, while Bose was praised for her directing and her sensitive handling of the subject.[51][54] Film critic Saibal Chatterjee equated the film to a life-like experience in his review for NDTV, highlighting the "emotionally arresting and startlingly revelatory story". He called it a rare, if not the only, Indian film that addresses the subject of disability with such honesty; he thought that Laila's physical handicap eventually ceases to matter.[55] This view was shared by Paloma Sharma of Rediff.com, who deemed the film "wonderfully liberating", and Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express, who described it as "an achievement [for Indian cinema]". Sharma ascribed the film's appeal to an "ordinariness" that made it truly exceptional.[56] Gupta also made note of the film's treatment of a bisexual character and of sex, which she believed was "revolutionary" for a Bollywood film.[57] Ananya Bhattacharya emphasised the lasting impact of the film, writing that it would leave the viewer "with a sense of exhilaration", and that it could not be easily forgotten. Her appraisal of the script was laudatory, claiming that it was without any superfluity and was "straight from the heart".[58]

Koechlin won universal acclaim and several accolades (including a National Film Award) for her performance

Firstpost's Deepanjana Pal commended Bose's "intent" in basing the narrative around a character who isn't "normal". She was especially impressed by the manner in which the sex scenes were shot, writing that it conveyed a "tenderness towards the on-screen lovers" without being weird or coy.[59] While Subhash K. Jha praised Bose for directing with a "luminous austerity", Gupta wrote that she, "blows it all out in the open with warmth and empathy".[57] The Economic Times reviewer, Tasneem Balapurwala, was appreciative of the restraint evident in Bose's direction, as well as her expert use of emotions and moments, pointing out that she never lingers too long upon these nor milks them for effect.[60] Sharma also highlighted the cinematography of the film and commended Misawa for "charming frames lit up with an almost dream-like, soft light".[56] Bhattacharya, likewise, offered praise for Misawa for her "aesthetic" frames.[58]

Criticism focused on the change of tone and hurried narrative in the latter half of the film and was made by such critics as Shilpa Jamkhandikar of Reuters and Mihir Fadnavis of Firspost.[61][62] Although the latter was enthralled by the film's first half, he thought that after a "glorious, powerful beginning, Bose fails to figure out a proper resolution".[62] Devesh Sharma was critical of the film's scattered plot in his review for Filmfare. He wrote that it "skips and jumps from one plot point to the other", leaving the viewer unsatisfied.[63] Jamkhandikar similarly noted that Bose introduced "too many contrivances and conflicts" in the narrative.[61]

Koechlin's performance in the film was a source of much critical analysis and was variously dubbed by critics as "bravura", "virtuoso", and "exceptional".[64][65][66] Pal ascribed her screen appeal to her lack of acting pretence: she commended "the lack of artifice in her expressions" as truly remarkable.[59] Venky Vembu of The Hindu made paid detailed attention to Koechlin's "understated artistry" saying that, "she lends such verisimilitude to her portrayal of a person with cerebral palsy, that you forget [...] that she’s an able-bodied actress".[67] Writing for The Commercial Appeal, John Beifuss compared Koechlin's performance to Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking in the biographical drama, The Theory of Everything. He wrote that her performance would have attracted Academy Award notice in a major film studio production.[68] This view was echoed by Variety critic Guy Lodge, who was particularly impressed by Koechlin's range.[69] The supporting cast of the film also received largely positive reviews for their respective performances. While Sanjukta Sharma of Livemint lauded Revathi for her "finely nuanced" portrayal of a mother, The Huffington Post's Suprateek Chatterjee regarded her character and performance as more compelling than any other in the film.[70][71] Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Gary Goldstein offered a mixed response to the production, but concluded by saying that owing to Koechlin's and Gupta's performances, "it's hard not to be captivated".[72]

Box office

Margarita with a Straw released in India on around 250 screens and had an average opening at the box office.[26] After collecting the meagre sum of 5 million (US$78,000) on its opening day, the figures began to grow over the following days, largely because of positive word of mouth. The film collected improved totals of 7.5 million (US$120,000) on Saturday and 9 million (US$140,000) on Sunday bringing the opening weekend collections to 21.2 million (US$330,000).[73] It faced competition from other productions including Mr. X, and previous releases Ek Paheli Leela, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! in its opening weekend at the box office, but was expected to do well because of the positive reviews. The first week's numbers held steady at 32.4 million (US$510,000).[74] The film did particularly well in urban areas like Mumbai and National Capital Region where it collected 19 million (US$300,000) and 15 million (US$230,000) respectively.[26] This trend was analysed by Shobha De as marking a "dramatic shift in urban audiences' tastes". She made note of the newfound acceptance of unconventional and sexual themes in Indian cinema.[75] Margarita with a Straw grossed a total of 74 million (US$1.2 million) during its theatrical run.[26]

Accolades

Bose won the NETPAC Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.[76] The production was subsequently awarded the Audience and the Youth Jury prizes at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema respectively.[77][78] Koechlin won several accolades for her performance, including the Best Actress Award at Tallinn, the Screen Award for Best Actress, and the Jury Award at the 63rd National Film Awards.[79][80] Additionally, she had garnered nominations for Best Actress at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Asian Film Awards.[81][82] McCleary won the Best Composer Award at the last of the aforementioned ceremonies.[83][84]

References

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External links

  • Margarita with a Straw on IMDb
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