Shonali Bose’s film Margarita, with a Straw, starring Kalki Koechlin in the lead role, won the NETPAC award for best Asian film at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival.

The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) jury awards the best Asian film from a first or second-time feature director every year at the festival, which concluded yesterday.

Bose, who previously directed Amu in 2005 and co-wrote Chittagong, tells the love story of a Delhi university student and aspiring writer Laila, who is afflicted with cerebral palsy. She leaves India for New York University, where she falls for a fiery young activist, Khanum, played by Sayani Gupta.

There is so much hope in Bose’s film – a rare attempt by an Indian filmmaker to look at the longings and sexual desires of a physically challenged person. Margarita, with a Straw was one of the five films at TIFF that focused on India-related themes. It was a strong showing for Indian cinema after an exceptional year at other international festivals.

Bose was inspired to make Margarita, with a Straw after her cousin, who is affected by cerebral palsy, told her she would like to have sex before she turned 40. As she recalled, that was the first time she had thought about her cousin’s sexual desires.

In the film,  Koechlin’s Laila develops a sense of independence, including when she leaves India to study at the New York University. But, in the process Laila also discovers her own sexuality as a lesbian woman and the courage to come out to those close to her. As Laila, Koechlin gives a quiet, honest performance, rarely seen on the Indian screen.