Shonali Bose focuses lens on taboo subject - again

Mumbai: Once bitten twice shy is a proverb you cannot apply to filmmaker Shonali Bose. For the second time in her life, she is trying to make ‘Margarita. With a Straw’, a film on a largely untouched subject - cerebral palsy.

This time, she is armed with a little experience. The film is inspired by her cousin who suffers from the disease.

Her ‘Amu’ in 2005 was a rare feature film to be made on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Though it helped sensitise people about the issue, making it was an uphill task.

"Since it was a low budget film, I thought I would easily get funds from the Sikh community. But I found that they did not want to remember that darkest period in their history," Shonali told IANS in an interview.

"Then, while shooting, a prominent politician threatened us if we continued. Finally, even after winning two National Awards, Doordarshan, for whom it is mandated to show every National Award winning film, refused to show it," she said.

She realised the hard way why even after two decades there was no film on the 1984 riots - and not another made till now - for as far as taboo subjects go, in Punjabi dominated Bollywood, this was up there.

It is 2012 and Shonali is gearing up to make ‘Margarita. With a Straw’ and cerebral palsy (CP) is another no-go subject.

Think of disability in cinema and names like Sanjay Leela Bhansali`s ‘Black’ or Gulzar`s ‘Koshish’ come up, one about visual and the other about hearing impairment. There are none in India and few films globally about cerebral palsy, and for good reason.

The disease causes multiple disabilities in a person, often distorting the body. Thus cinema, the greatest propagator of conventional beauty through the nubile bodies of actors, is not keen on having someone visibly `ugly` as a lead.

It even goes against the dictates of the most renegade of world cinema which has at least one thing in common with commercial cinema - good looking actors. Though there is a notable exception in ‘My Left Foot’, which won Daniel Day Lewis an Oscar for his stunning performance, there hasn`t been one in over two decades that matches its power.

This Shonali knows. Yet, she is upbeat about her script ‘Margarita. With a Straw’. The reason: it has already won accolades by winning the 2012 Sundance Institute Mahindra Global Filmmaking award along with three other global projects and being the only Indian among 500 scripts selected from the country.

"As a filmmaker with a conscience, I am drawn to stories that have never been told. My first cousin, Malini Chib, has cerebral palsy. She is only a year younger and we grew up like sisters. Cerebral palsy is very personal to me and despite not being biographical, `Margarita..` is inspired by Malini," she said.

There is another taboo Shonali has not been bogged down by. While ‘My Left Foot’ was about a man, would the world accept a film about a woman in a `rejected body`, searching for love?

On her part though, Shonali is unruffled, for hers is the case of "once bitten, twice try". This is good for cinema. For only those mad enough to think they can challenge and change taboos are the ones who in the end do.


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