Published: March 3, 2015
When Indian filmmaker Shonali Bose asked her sister — who was born with acute cerebral palsy — what she wanted to do for her 40th birthday, she was completely “taken aback” by her response.
“She said — loud and clear with rare distinct speech, slamming her fist down on the table — I want to have sex!” Bose wrote in an email to Vancouver Desi.
While Bose admits she gave her sister a “trite” response and said something like “it’s not all it’s made out to be” — the thought stayed with her.
“It was an aspect of disability I hadn’t ever considered,” said Bose. “She was a gifted writer, double MA’s from England, award winner … how the hell did sexuality matter in the face of such achievement?”
It wasn’t until her sister’s defiant 40th birthday wish that Bose realized “this had been a driving need her whole life, which had been suppressed by society and her family.”
With that realization, Bose’s latest film, Margarita, With a Straw — the opening night film at Vancouver’s Women in Film Festival on Wednesday — was born.
The film follows the story of Laila, a young woman in India who’s undeterred by cerebral palsy. After facing rejection from an able-bodied boy at her Indian school, she leaves it all behind and moves to New York City, where she ends up navigating the world of dating — experiencing a lesbian relationship and sexual discovery.
“Sexuality in and of itself is pretty taboo and rarely seen in Indian cinema,” Bose said of the film, which is yet to release in India. “The sexuality of the disabled is taboo the world over and definitely bold.”
So Bose hopes the film “changes the way (the audience) views people who are ‘different’ from them — whether gay or disabled. That they see them as human beings.”
According to Carolyn Combs with Vancouver’s Women in Film Festival, Margarita, With a Straw was chosen as the opening night film because it’s “a look at something that we don’t normally see.”
“It touched upon important issues,” said Combs. “We don’t have a lot of exposure to the life and thinking of people with disabilities.
“So it’s refreshing to see that. And it’s a strong female lead.”
According to Combs, it’s “a rarity” to see such a strong female lead in a film outside of “hero films” (for example, like the female lead in the Hunger Games).
“To see ordinary and strong female leads is rare — and this is really rare to see a woman with cerebral palsy as a lead,” she said. “It’s a feel good film and the main character is so delightful that you just want to watch her.”
Margarita, With a Straw screens Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at VIFF’s Vancity Theatre. The Women in Film Festival runs March 4 to 8. For more information on screenings, scheduling and to purchase tickets visit womeninfilm.ca