At the Toronto International Film Festival recently, a duo of Indian women — one a film director, Shonali Bose and the other, an actor who has made her mark in both mainstream and in the niche art film segment, Kalki Koechlin, got a standing ovation at the end of their film, Margarita With a Straw (MWS). It is a rare occasion when audiences at the festival stand up to applaud a film but then, this was a special film about a special subject-the life of a special girl , Malini Chib Alur, who could not make it to the festival but was cheering them on back home.
Together, this trio of women set out on a brave journey on uncharted territory, making a film about a girl with cerebral palsy who finds her groove and her own place in the sun, on the wings of hope and a fierce determination to not give up on life.
Malini Chib who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when she was a little girl is now a Mumbai-based disability rights activist who has transformed the Spastics Society of India which her mom set up way back in the early seventies. The new organisation is spearheaded by her daughter and now goes under the name of ADAPT (Abled, Disabled, All People Together). And that is the sum total of how Malini has lived her life. To the fullest. Hanging out with friends, doing everything they did including going for a swim, shopping with them and getting together for a drink. Her disability means that Malini is able to enjoy her favourite drink only through a straw and that is how the name of the movie came about.
Interestingly, the film would never have been made but for the fact that Shonali Bose, Malini’s cousin and soul mate, experienced life with a disabled person as she was with her the latter all through their growing up years. The experience left a lasting impression on her. Bose said recently that the long time she spent waiting for Malini to be able to get started and keep pace with the rest of the group taught her the virtue of patience, gave her an understanding of life with disability and made her deeply sensitive to the fighting spirit her cousin nurtured inside her. The wheelchair bound Malini has a double Masters degree, is an author (she wrote about her own life with disability) and is forever helping the disability movement to move forward with progressive policies that will help in inclusion.
Kalki Koechlin the actor who portrays Malini’s character in the film spent months following Malini as she went about her daily life till she was able to pick up all the nuances of the life with disability including the way she speaks, the way she moves on the wheel chair and her mannerisms. At one point she said she tried to imitate Malini’s speech by putting marbles in her mouth and attempting to speak! Preparations also included spending weeks at ADAPT where she picked up tips for portraying her role by simply observing the people around her.
“I trained with an acting coach for three months to cultivate her body language. I was fearful of being inauthentic or untrue to CP patients,” Koechlin said recently.
We are hoping that the film reaches a wider audience and does not get stuck in the film festival circuit.
With disability issues gradually finding a place in dialogues when public policy is made, more people, especially law makers, need to see that disability need not be a crushing blow and that the disabled are not people who have to live life on the sidelines. They are contributing members of society and it is time we acknowledged that.
Hats off the three ladies.
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