It can be a bit hard to find a movie featuring a gay couple that isn’t American. It’s harder still for that couple to be people of colour, and still harder for them to be from the East, rather than a Western nation. For both parties in the relationship to also have visible disabilities is next to impossible, and for those people, and their disabilities, to be portrayed with beauty, complexity, and dignity is something that I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be able to witness in my lifetime. But Margarita with a Straw gave me all of this, and so much more than I could have ever hoped for.
Our protagonist is Laila (Kalki Koechlin), an Indian university student with cerebral palsy. Though dealing with many obvious physical limitations, Laila is an active, full-time student, a very talented producer and lyricist, and a member of a rock band at her school. In typical teen fashion, she falls for the lead singer of her band, and when he rejects her, she decides to seize the opportunity to leave Delhi University and study at New York University for a semester, to put some distance between herself and this heartbreak.
Laila travels to New York with her mother and it’s there that she meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta) a blind Pakastani Bangladeshi student and activist. The two hit it off immediately and become fast friends, but when that friendship evolves into a romance, Laila is unsure of how to, or even if she should, come out to her family. Laila’s palsy is not ignored in her interactions with friends, classmates, and family members; they don’t pretend that she isn’t disabled, or talk around her disability. But neither is her disability treated as the most important thing about her. Similarly, in her relationship with Khanum, neither treats the other’s disability as if it is something to be constantly highlighted, or a taboo, unspeakable subject, to be actively avoided.
As Laila explores her new surroundings, and delves deeper into her new relationship with Khanum, she also falls deeper into confusion as she finds herself pulled towards another possible love interest. It wasn’t until I saw Laila juggling her options that I realized how often, when dealing with disabled persons, the few romance films which feature them always portray them as being pitiful, unattractive specifically because of that disability, and completely lacking in options. Basically, the disabled are unwanted as romantic and sexual partners and should just jump at the first chance they get to be in a relationship. The idea that disabled people might be wanted by more than just one person, and that (if said person is able-bodied) their partner is a saint for “taking care of them”, is a very tired and overused trope that this film (thankfully) lacked.
Probably one of the most startlingly poignant aspects of this film is that it doesn’t seek to portray the disabled as asexual beings. Almost never are disabled people portrayed as having consensual, fulfilling sexual relationships in the media, and as a result, the physically disabled in particular are often assumed to be content to not experience sexual intimacy. While it’s possible for a person to be both disabled and completely asexual, we do disabled people a huge disservice in assuming that because we don’t want to think of anyone other than the fully able-bodied having sex, that anyone who isn’t that doesn’t want to have sex. Beautiful, intimate, but also non-invasive, the sex scenes in Margarita with a Straw give just enough for us to understand that it’s more than possible for those with physical disabilities to have fully healthy sex lives.
Brimming with love, family, culture, and the never-ending journey of self-love and self-discovery, Margarita with a Straw is poetry in motion, a celebration of life, independence, dignity, and unapologetic visibility for the various intersections who need it the most. From beginning to end, we were given engaging, layered people and relationships, not harmful stereotypes and patronizing quips. This film is uplifting, soul-stirring, and a vital contribution to the genre of romance.
I give this one 5 stars.