Finally, a normal movie about “special people”.

I was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder leading to lack of muscles in my arms and legs, due to which I’m confined to a wheelchair. I tend to look forward to movies portraying disabled characters. However, I am often left disappointed as these movies often show them either as individuals who need to be pitied and or as superhuman achievers.

Shonali Bose’s Margarita With a Straw, which opens on April 17, is certainly an exception. This is a coming of age story spanning Delhi and New York that tackles desire, discrimination, success, heartbreaks and bisexuality. Laila (played by Kalki Koechlin) happens to be on a wheelchair and happens to be bisexual, but the movie is primarily just another teenager on her path to self-discovery. At no point does one start feeling sorry for the character.

India is a challenging place to live in for a person with a disability. Even in this day and age, I am often not offered a menu in restaurants as the wait staff does not know how to interact with a wheelchair user. It’s even tougher to order a cocktail, as the waiter always rechecks by saying, “It’s alcoholic,” sometimes even checking with those accompanying me whether I can have one. I’m assuming the average 27-year-old does not have to go through these ritual humiliations.

One can’t independently withdraw money, as any time machines aren’t accessible. Markets are rarely at the same level. It is almost impossible to access public transport. In fact, the Delhi Metro is the most disabled friendly mode of public transport. It has space earmarked for wheelchairs in the ladies compartment. Perhaps they need a reminder that wheelchair users can be men too.

Bold and beautiful

Margarita With a Straw is a brave movie because it touches on themes that aren’t discussed in the average Indian living room. In a country where it is still difficult for the disabled to lead a normal dignified life, this movie looks at them as complete individuals. Laila is a vivacious young woman who is a cause and victim of heartbreaks. Discrimination is depicted at various levels. One of the male protagonists is from the North East, a region from which students are often discriminated against in major Indian cities. He in turn cannot digest the thought of having a disabled girlfriend. Similarly, Laila’s mother Shubhangini (Revathy), who has lived her life fighting stereotypes and ensuring Laila leads a normal dignified life, doesn’t react very favourably to her daughter’s bisexuality.

Margarita With a Straw will create ripples, and there will surely be those even in the disabled community who will be unhappy. After all, a disabled person can be homophobic too.

The movie doesn’t touch on all areas related to disability, but it doesn’t need to. It isn’t a documentary. Yes, the meat-and-potato issues are left out, but no journey is sequential. After all, poverty still existed when the US sent a man to the moon. In this generation, where love is found based on liking pictures on Tinder, one would hope that this movie helps us look beyond will start a conversation on disability, desire and companionship.

Last month, I was rejected entry by an upmarket pub in South Delhi as they didn’t allow the “disabled” inside as a policy. With the release of this movie, I hope to be invited there soon to have my margarita, with a straw. Thank you, Shonali, for a special movie about “normal people”.