News East West
TORONTO: The Indian film Margartia, With a Straw by director Shonali Bose has been adjudged the best Asian film at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which concluded here on Saturday night.
The film is the story of a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy afflicted Sikh girl Laila (played by Kalki Koechlin) from Delhi. Laila is a creative and headstrong Delhi girl, who is an aspiring lyric writer and creates electronic sounds for her college band.
Lalia wins a scholarship to study in New York University where she discovers her bisexuality when she falls in love with another fiery girl Khanum (played by Sayani Gupta) from Pakistan.
In a nutshell, the film aims to empower lesbians/gays and the disabled people who are discriminated universally, more so in India.
Calling the film “both universal and groundbreaking,’’ the jury of the Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) gave its award to Margarita, With a Straw.
The jury which included Lekha Shankar (India), Hannah Fisher (China) and Anderson Le (Hawaii), said, “Director Shonali Bose and actress Kalki Koechlin have jointly created a character and a world that embody a love letter to life, with all its highs and lows, in spite of overwhelming physical limitations.’’
Shonali was not present to accept the award announced here on Sunday.
But her co-producer Nilesh Maniyar, who accepted the award, read her statement to the huge gathering.
Shonali said, “I am simply speechless. And deeply honored and grateful. I watched some wonderful Asian films at the festival and I know how highly competitive this is. Thank you to the jury.’’
Shonali, whose film Amu on the 1984 anti-Sikhs riots also premiered at the Toronto film festival in 2005, said, “This (the award) means a lot for the film and for Indian cinema. Our world premier here at TIFF has been outstanding. I am indebted to Cameron (TIFF creative director) for believing in me and for selecting Margarita when it was just a rough cut.’’
On a rather sad note, Shonali added, “Yesterday – September 13 – when the jury made this decision was my son Ishan’s 4th death anniversary. He attended the entire festival with me as he is always with me now and it is his love and blessings from the Universe that has wrought this miracle for me and for the film.”
Giving his reaction, co-producer Nilesh Maniyar said, “I told Shonali that we will win the award. I told her that this film will go places. And here we are.’’
He added, “The film cuts through the issues and tells a beautiful and emotional story.’’
Nilesh was elated that his debut film has won the top award at TIFF.
“Margarita, With a Straw is my debut film here and I couldn’t have asked for more. We were competing with some of the amazing films from countries like South Korea and elsewhere.’’