Reel Caregiving: Glimpses of Caregiving – Margarita with a Straw

Movie Review Courtesy: Kashish Rao 

‘Margarita with a straw” is a heart wrenching story of Laila, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy. The movie encapsulates Laila’s journey of self – discovery and exploration during her college years.

Laila lives with her father, Baljeet, her mother, Shubhangi and younger brother, Monu in New Delhi. A smart and witty young girl, she attends college in Delhi University. The movie breaks the stereotypes associated with Cerebral Palsy and through Laila’s character, shows us that the disease may cause motor impairments but it does not compromise ones’ intellectual and creative ability. Laila is shown to excel at chess, creative writing and at composing music. Her mother, shubhangi plays the role of her primary caregiver. From driving Laila to college in their blue van to bathing Laila, the movie shows a strong bond between mother and daughter.

We are taken through Laila’s journey of identifying herself as a bisexual woman depicted through a passionate and emotional relationship between her and Khanum, a Pakistani – Bangladeshi girl who is blind. Laila and Khanum return to India, where she hears the news of her mother’s diagnosis and battle with colon cancer. Her fears of sharing her ‘secrets’ with her mother, of losing her and of taking care of her during her final stages, makes it hard for viewers to watch the movie without teary eyes.

Through the movie, we have seen multiple characters play the role of a caregiver. We will be showcasing various caregiver and well-wisher learning moments.

#1 The impact of caregiving on Shubhangi

Shubhangi’s character is that of a typical Indian housewife. She looks after the house and her family. Additionally, she is also the primary caregiver to Laila, who requires physical support due to the motor impairments that come with having Cerebral Palsy. The movie begins with a scene showing us a blue van which is modified to accommodate Laila’s wheelchair requirements. Shubhangi drops and picks Laila up from college daily. She doesn’t seem to have much of a social life away from that of her family. She is shown to be a talented classical singer, as in once scene Laila joins her mother as she sings and plays what seems to be a sitar. It leaves us thinking – would Shubhangi have pursued her talent of singing if it wasn’t for her family’s needs? Many mothers, like Shubhangi have the sole life purpose of taking care of their family and loved ones. Throughout the movie Shubhangi’s happiness is reflected through seeing her daughter happy, seeing her grow and flourish into an independent young woman despite her disabilities.

Shubhangi was also diagnosed with a relapse of second stage colon cancer. She is shown brushing her hair in the mirror, when she notices her hair falling out. She breaks down. Unwilling to burden her children with the news of her diagnosis, she hides her illness and her emotions in order to protect her family.

#2 Laila’s father Baljeet and his caregiving role

Baljeet is the sole earning member of the family. They are portrayed as a modest, middle – income family.While Laila was studying in Delhi University, she falls in love with a fellow band member, Nima. She expresses her feelings towards him, leaving her crushed when she learns that his feelings were not reciprocated. On Laila’s acceptance to New York University, Baljeet was very reluctant on sending her. He was worried for her health, and how she would manage staying there alone without the support of her family. Baljeet was worried about his daughter being hurt again. This depicts the several emotions that come with being not just a caregiver, but a parent as well.

Later in the movie Baljeet also goes on to play the role of a primary caregiver to his wife. He hides the news from his family, until Shubhangi is finally admitted to the hospital. In one scene Baljeet is seen crying late at night, when Laila goes on to comfort him. Caregivers, like Baljeet, often hide their emotions from family members as they may see it as a sign of vulnerability.Trying to stay strong for his family, Baljeet takes on the sole responsibility of caregiving, until Shubhangi becomes critically ill.

#3 Khanum, Laila’s lover and caregiver;

Khanum and Laila shared a bond, different from the ones Laila did with her friends and family back home. The two lived together in New York as lovers and Khanum took over the responsibility of caring for Laila as soon as her mother left for India. When they both decided to visit India, Laila revealed to Khanum that she had been unfaithful to her. A series of dramatic fights broke out and Khanum accused Laila of using her so she had someone to take care of her. Despite feeling betrayed and frustrated, Khanum never left Laila’s side. She shared Laila’s pain of losing her ‘aai’ and flew back to America only after forgiving her. Khanum was blind, but her character was an accurate depiction of an independent woman who lived her life to the fullest.

#4 Caregiving through the patient’s lens; 

Cerebral Palsy is a neurological condition, an umbrella term which includes a group of symptoms and disabilities. Laila knew she was differently abled, but she never wanted that to get in the way of her goals and aspirations. She wanted to fit into the ‘normal’. One particular scene which depicted exactly how Laila did not wish to be treated was when her college band won a music competition and the judge comes onto stage to announce to the audience that the win was because the team had a “disabled lyricist”. Hearing this breaks her courage, makes her doubt her creative abilities and she goes on to show the judge her middle finger and walk off the stage. Laila’s determination to show to the world that she was not afraid to chase her dreamson her own terms was groundbreaking in shattering the stereotypes of differently abled people. 

Roles reversed when Laila became a caregiver to her mother,Shubhangi. She cared for her through nights at the hospital and held the family together in difficult times. One particularly heartwarming scene was of Laila playing the recording of her mother singing at her funeral. The closing scene shows Laila having a ‘Margarita with a straw’, as she takes herself out on a date. Perhaps, this depicts her journey of loving, accepting and celebrating herself. 

In our next segment on Reel Caregiving, we will explore caregiving in another movie. Watch this space!


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