Bollywood star Kalki Koechlin on playing bisexual, disabled and in love in “Margarita, with a Straw”

 

AE: So when I spoke with Shonali about three months ago, she told me that after having sex with Jared, Laila realized, and this is a direct quote, that she’s “actually quite strongly gay.” Was that your impression as well? I know I originally thought she was bisexual. And if you do think she’s gay, why do you think it took cheating on her girlfriend with a man to realize that?

KK: I think because she’s never ever experienced sex before Khanum. So for her, it’s almost like that curiosity of, “Is this what I’m supposed to do?” Shonali says–you know it comes from her own personal experience of when she was in college, and the first person she slept with was a woman. She’s bisexual. She then got married and stuff, to a man. So she had that same thing of being curious about, “Well can I be attracted to a man? What am I?”

I have another gay friend who he had a girlfriend for the longest time and then clearly he knew that this was something he needed to explore. So I think that crisis of sexuality is something a lot of us face when we experience sex for the first time.

So I think with Laila as well, it’s partly the fact that she’s so curious to know what it is, and probably partly her insecurity and her need to be loved. Jared is a good looking boy, and he wants her, and she’s kind of like, “Oh, okay. I will take this opportunity.” So she is, I think, a little selfish in that moment. And it takes that and the fact that she manages to talk about it and come out about it truthfully to Khanum, it takes all of that for her to sort of grow up. At the end of the film, I would feel that Laila goes back to Khanum if Khanum would take her.

 

AE: But if you had to label her, and not everyone likes labels, do you think Laila’s gay?

KK: I would say she’s bisexual. I don’t want to start an argument with Shonali, but I would say that she’s bisexual. I think that she’s definitely in love with Khanum, and I can see that she would want that relationship to work. Also, because I read so many drafts of the script where Laila didn’t have sex with other people but she was flirting a lot with a lot of guys. So there’s this whole history to me as to who Laila is. But yeah, I do think that she’s bisexual.

 

AE: What kind of feedback have you personally received for playing this character?

KK: The really encouraging thing has actually been the conservative family audience that have come up to me and said, “Wow, this has opened up a conversation with my son, or my daughter, on the subject. I haven’t addressed it.” It just opened up a lot of doors for a lot of people. A lot of young people took their parents to watch the film, especially from the LGBT community here. They went with their parents to go see the film, and I think that that’s really encouraging.

 Kalki Koechlin in MARGARITA WITH A STRAW - Courtesy of Wolfe Video (1)

AE: Is there a specific line of conversation you were hoping this film would spark or help? For instance, around queer issues, issues affecting people with disabilities, both. And if so, has that happened?

KK: We’ve done a lot of screenings in universities and in the disabled community as well, and the questions I’ve heard from students has been amazing, where they’re saying, “Do you think this is something I can talk to my parents about? This is something I’ve been struggling with for a while.” There’s also just the sheer fact that–it sounds very simple, but disability in India compared to disability in New York, when Laila goes to New York, the kind of freedom she experiences and the fact that she can be independent is something that people in India who are disabled. There’s just no basic infrastructure. You can’t go to a cinema without being dependent on two or three people. And that really limits access, and so the disabled are invisible in our country. We don’t see them out in public very often. So for them, it was so inspirational to see that, wow, this is a woman who’s going out and people are just not staring at her and questioning her or anything. And here we’re still fighting for that sort of inclusive education where disabled and non-disabled people can get educated together so that people are used to the idea of inclusivity. So all these things are discussions that have started after the film, and it’s just been great.

 

AE: I want to end off by asking this: would you be open to playing a queer character once again?

KK: Of course, yeah. Of course. For me, again, I feel if I’m convinced by the authenticity and the realness of a script, if it’s telling a human story, I jump at the chance.

Margarita, with a Straw will be released on VOD via Wolfe Video on June 14 across all digital platforms, including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and WolfeOnDemand.com. It’ll be available June 28 on DVD via Wolfe Video and many major retailers.