Tag Archives: love

Desires of the undesired

I watched Margarita With A Straw last night, and it’s still on my mind. Most frequent moviegoers will acknowledge that that is quite a rarity in today’s times. Margarita is beautiful. It is the story of a girl with cerebral palsy, and her experiences as she explores her sexual desires. It is natural, understated and heartfelt. At the center of the film is Kalki Koechlin, who shines like a thousand stars in the role of Laila. Laila, who is restricted to her wheelchair and has speech impairments, is out there. She’s in Delhi University, she’s in New York University, she’s doing a creative writing program, she’s hitting on men, she’s dancing with her family and in a NYC club, and she’s also dealing with layered relationships – with her caring parents who get a little overprotective at times (for good reason), with her friends, with her crushes, with her partner. Sounds familiar? Absolutely! It’s about what you, I and everyone “like us” go through. We’re just able to enunciate our sounds better and walk on our feet.

Margarita, apart from being an endearing work of art, is also important in many different contexts. First, while its protagonist is physically challenged, the movie treats that as a fact and as a backdrop. There have been good films in India about physically and mentally challenged individuals – Gulzar’s Koshish back in the 1970s explored the marriage of two deaf-and-mute people; Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par was a take on the travails of a child with dyslexia; Bhansali’s Black was about a girl who was blind, deaf and mute. All of these were beautiful movies and important in their own right. But they were essentially about the disability of the protagonist. The disability wasn’t a mere backdrop, it was the story. Margarita, on the other hand, has a most natural way of dealing with the disability. The fact that Laila goes to class every day on a wheelchair, or she makes music and performs in concerts, or the fact that it does not take a lengthy dramatic scene between her parents to decide that she will go to NYU – all of these could be happening in any home. The adjustments her limitations call for – such as her father driving a Matador van that can hold her wheelchair, the peons carrying her up a staircase when the elevator stops working, are also weaved in effortlessly, without arousing any sympathy in the audience, and yet presenting an alternative way of life.

Second, Margarita is about sex and sexuality – and not in a way that most Indian movies understand those subjects. There are no full-busted women coming out of water, or hot men doing peekaboo of butt-cracks. It breaks paradigms all over the place – a girl, a physically-challenged girl at that, is attracted to men and women along the way, and explores that side of her. In a country and an industry where the concepts of sex, women, and homo/bisexuality are bigoted and convoluted, Margarita is the most human telling of this undeniable emotion that makes us living things.

Third, Margarita is important because, yet again, it has proven that good cinema does not need male superstars. In recent years, Bollywood’s women have taken it upon themselves (of course backed by a small bunch of great directors and writers) to cleanse the stinking industry, that sees disgustingly artless and regressive movies starring 50-something actors in 20-something roles make Rs.100 crores in opening weekends. Movies such as English Vinglish, Queen, Kahaani, Lootera, Highway, NH10, Mary Kom and now Margarita will change that slowly and steadily. If this trend continues, in five years’ time, we may be able to get rid of the senior citizen brigade thriving on teenage buffoonery. Hopefully, the girls will also serve as a lesson for the new boys (Ranbir, Ranveer, Varun, etc).

English Vinglish Movie Stills

queen nh10

Last but not the least, Margarita is important because it will do well internationally. It will win prizes, be screened at film festivals, and be talked about. It will finally present India as a place where specially-abled people CAN go to college, CAN have friends, CAN have supportive parents. It will also open up to the world a country of understanding fathers and male friends, empowered women making their own decisions, and a sensitive and cultured society. Of late, India has been in the international news for its crime against women, attacks against minorities, and culture policing. This film will work as one of the many little things that will reveal another side of India. We may not want a Western stamp of approval on everything we do, but that does not mean we would like to be known to the world as barbaric and criminal. The American boy in the film asks Laila – do I have to marry you if I kiss you? We’ve all had to answer such idiotic questions – a Dutch professor once asked me in the middle of a viva voce if I was treated specially in India because my surname signified my ancestors were priests. Hopefully, with the likes of Margarita, we can do away such eye-roll moments.

One last thing – superlative works of art always remind us of other good works. I’d like to mention two here. One is the film Amu, made by the same filmmaker as Margarita. I don’t think it got a big release back then, and many might have missed it then. Do watch. The other is a book called Trying To Grow by Firdaus Kanga, that is a beautiful autobiographical account of a physically-challenged boy growing up and exploring his sexual preferences within the confines of a Parsee family in Bombay. It isn’t that readily available. I had read an excerpt of it, and had placed an order for the book at Singapore’s National Library. They promptly got it for me. Even today, it costs a bomb on Amazon, or is only available as used copies. It is imperative that we preserve such alternative literature. This one already seems to be hitting oblivion. But times have changed. Margarita will stay and be remembered for a long time to come.

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Winter Drizzle

Drizzle on a winter day is not something that happens often in Calcutta, but when it does, it has its effects. The overcast sky and the cold breeze, the constant pitter-patter of the rain and the wet streets make one lazy and pensive. Today was one such day when I woke up to grayness all around me. Doing justice to the weather, I thoughtfully sipped on my coffee and looked into the characterless sky. With nothing particular to think deeply about, I decided that I needed a cigarette to stimulate my brain.

As I was walking down to the shop down the road, the rain came down a little heavier than the drizzle. Hurriedly, I scuttled to find a dry patch under a tree. As I was wiping the water droplets off my glasses, he walked into the dry patch too. I obviously stiffened – there was far less space than could fit the two of us. I carefully put my glasses back on and looked sideways for what he was doing. To my surprise, he seemed pensive too. He hardly paid any attention to me (which was a relief) and seemed to be engrossed in thought about the sudden rain on a December morning.

The clock ticked loudly as I counted the seconds we were spending side by side. With the rain getting heavier, the dry patch we were in was becoming smaller in area too, and that only meant that he and I were inching closer to each other. Oh, what torment those few minutes were! The few centimeters between us was only widened by the deafening silence. Okay enough is enough, I thought. I had to do something about it! So I slowly turned my head. To my dismay, as I did, he too turned his head (maybe we had some kind of intuitive message passing going on) and our eyes met. Well, that’s a first, I thought, I’ve never locked eyes with him before, or for that matter, with anyone like him! Our gazes held for sometime. When I run those few minutes through my head now, I am surprised at how calm I was, how my heart did not beat faster like it usually does, or how beads of sweat did not appear on my brow like they usually do. The rain had quelled the fire, the clouds had covered the past. It was this moment – him and I and the winter drizzle.

At that moment, I had this overwhelming urge to reach out and touch him, to feel his skin, to run my fingers through the gooseflesh that I could see the cold was giving him, maybe I could even bring my mouth close to his ear and whisper something in it, maybe he would like it and like me, and I would finally get over my lifelong fears and love him, and history would be behind us. Maybe we would create history on this dull unremarkable winter morning. I could feel my hand slowly rising, my heart still uncharacteristically calm, his eyes still lapping up my insecurities and upheavals.

Right then, the profound silence was broken by the rains falling silent. It was as if the curtains had suddenly gone up and caught us vulnerably gazing at each other under the spotlight. The sounds of the world came back – wheels of the car swishing past and sprinkling water on us from the streets, soft footsteps of a hundred people stepping out of their respective dry patches. We distractedly looked around us. I knew in my heart that the moment had gone by – my heart had started beating fast again. And he knew it too, because he swatted a fly with his paw, wagged his tail and walked away into the world.

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