In Margarita, Laila, a fiery young Indian woman with cerebral palsy, leaves India to study at New York University, where she unexpectedly falls in love and begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery. It’s a life-affirming and compassionate portrayal of a subject rarely seen on film, told with insight and humor. (Press materials)
Margarita, With a Straw will play at TIFF on September 8, 10, and 12.
WaH: Please give us your description of the film playing.
SB: Margarita, With a Straw is the coming-of-age story of an Indian teenager with cerebral palsy. She has an incredibly strong bond with her mother that gets tested when she falls in love with a blind woman. Through these two close relationships — filled with conflict, pain, and love — she discovers her own true self.
WaH: What drew you to this story?
SB: I grew up with a relative, only one year younger than me, who has cerebral palsy. I asked her what she wanted for her 40th birthday, and she replied that she just wanted to have sex. That remark stayed with me. I also had an incredibly close relationship with my own mother, who I lost at the age of 21. At that time, I was in a relationship with a woman, but I didn’t have the courage to tell my mother until it was too late. Thus this film is drawn extensively from my personal experiences.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
SB: The biggie was money. It’s very hard to fund a film with women in all the lead roles. And then on top of that, gay and disabled! It was beg, borrow and steal all the way.
The other was training my actors to give authentic performances as disabled people. It was challenging in pre-production to figure it out and make it happen. But once we started shooting, our hard work paid off and it was a breeze.
WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?
SB: March on! Do not compromise at any point. Our stories need to be told. It’s really tough, but it can happen.
WaH: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
SB: That my films are “small” films or that they are not commercial. The only thing stopping my films (Amu, Chittagong, Margarita, With a Straw) from being box-office successes is marketing and distribution. Audiences have loved my films, whether in a film festival or in a regular theater in a small town in India.
WaH: How did you get your film funded?
SB: A studio gave me half the money. I was the first Indian to win the Sundance Global Filmmaker Award for my script, so there was a lot of interest in it. We are still trying to raise the remaining money. We didn’t take any pay, and many of our cast and crew held off on receiving payment until I found the money.
WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.
SB: So Young Kim’s Treeless Mountain. It just touched my soul deeply. And being a mother, it was even more heartbreaking. She is such a nuanced director. In fact, I chose my DP, Anne Misawa, after watching Treeless. I also want to mention Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding.