Bisexual director Shonali Bose on her revolutionary queer film “Margarita, with a Straw”

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We first told you how much we loved Margarita, with a Straw 10 months ago. This movie about two women with disabilities falling in love with each other completely captured our hearts. Flash forward to the end of 2015 and we still thought it was one of the best lesbian/bi foreign films of the year. All this time later and after already having hit theaters in India, it’s still on its festival run.

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Ahead of the film’s screening at the ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York City, out writer/director Shonali Bose spoke with us about the importance of showing people with disabilities as sexual beings, how she identifies with her protagonist, her troubles with the Indian Censor Board, and more.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

AfterEllen.com: How did you come up with the idea for this film? What inspired you?

Shonali Bose: I have a cousin who was born with acute cerebral palsy. She’s only a year younger than me. We’re very much like sisters. We grew up together doing everything together. And when she was 39 and I was 40, we were in a London pub and I asked her, I said, “What would you like for your 40th birthday, the best birthday ever?” And she replied, “I’d just like to have sex.” And it hit me in that moment that I hadn’t thought about my sister’s sexuality.

This is something really important. There must be so many people who are disabled who are not considered sexual beings because of their bodies. And so I just felt like, in world cinema, it was a subject I didn’t see that had been dealt with. Particularly for women. And so that’s what was the inspiration.

 

AE: How did the transition happen where you decided this film would touch on queer sexuality as well?

SB: It happened very organically, and once it happened organically, then I stood by it politically. In the early draft, she wasn’t bisexual and there wasn’t another gay character. And I think after a couple of drafts I had developed this character, Khanum, who was very strongly political, a feminist, a gay activist. She was young. I had developed her because I just wanted such a character because I feel strongly about the gay issue as well. But then they didn’t have a relationship because she was just an inspirational character–that she was blind and yet she just did everything. She was an inspiration for Laila and in fact she kind of hit on Laila and Laila was like, “No, I’m straight.” So I was going along and then as I was writing for the draft and going deeper and deeper into the script, at one point Laila kind of spoke to me and said, “You know what? She’s much hotter than that white guy Jared. I’m not going to say I’m straight!” So organically I just created a scene where they make love and then she keeps getting drawn to this woman.

I myself am bisexual. At that time, I thought that Laila was speaking to me, but it was really that I had given myself permission to embody Laila. That it ceased to be my cousin and it became me. And the moment that it became me, it was automatic that I would just make her bisexual. But I didn’t think that. I didn’t think that’s what was happening. As I was writing, I was like, “Wow. Laila’s talking to me.”

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AE: There aren’t many films that feature leads that are also people with disabilities. When you add queer and female to that, you’re really hard pressed to find any. And yet your movie has two. How much of that was organic and how much was deliberate?

SB: It was a political decision that, “Yes, I’m going to do it.” I was aware that it would be very hard to find money and produce it. I was. And then when she became bisexual, I actually lost half the money that I had. So it became even harder, but I stood by that.

It’s not just that they’re leads. The film is not about their gayness or their disableness.

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