‘I’m lucky to have strong women around…’: Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin
She interacted with the members and emphasised the need to talk about patriarchy, motherhood, sexuality, etc.
Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin delivered a powerful monologue titled Truth of Womanhood at an event organised by FICCI FLO Hyderabad recently. She interacted with the members and emphasised the need to talk about patriarchy, motherhood, sexuality, etc. Here is an exclusive interview we had with her where she sheds light on her evolution as an artiste and more
How do you view your journey from DevD to this day?
With DevD, my only concern was I should be able to speak Hindi properly. You could wake me up in the middle of the night and I would know my line backwards because I was so worried about getting it right. From there to today it’s changed a lot. I’m much more comfortable in the language. I’m much more able to improvise and come up with ideas. I fight for rehearsals because you get that time to just play around and find something new or something that could be added to the script. Also, earlier, while playing an intense role, I would want to stay in the role all the time, from morning to night. It was a nightmare for me and for everybody else. Now I’ve learnt that you need to shake it off, just listen to some light music, play a prank on somebody and then jump back in the role. Countering that intensity with some lightness is also really important.
Do you think being vulnerable actually works for the artiste?
Yes, I think when we’re vulnerable, we allow a lot of emotions to come inside. With vulnerability, you start questioning what you’re feeling. You start thinking, internalising and experiencing things that are going on inside, that you can’t ignore. And that propels you into action. That makes you ask and do something about it.
So does the creative process help you with that?
Absolutely. That’s the expression, that’s the articulation of it. That’s the way to put it out in the world. You might know it for yourself, but how do you put that out? I think it’s so important to be encouraged to think and to express. In a world where everything is automated, it’s so important to switch off and be able to say, okay, but what am I really feeling at this moment? Who am I if I don’t have all this? And that is the truth and you need to be able to face it.
Is the creative process different when you are a writer and an actor?
Yeah, you don’t get to do what you want when you are an actor. It’s all in the script. I think much of it has to be on paper. When you recognise that there is something important out there, your job as an actor is to put truth and life into that. But the work is already done. Those thought processes and psychology have already been written. Then you’re just adding breath to it and making it alive.
Stage or cinema?
If I was paid as much on stage, I would pick that to do a lot more of it. It’s really an artiste’s medium, an actor’s medium. Cinema is very much a director’s medium. But, yes, I love it.
What are your opinions on how women are portrayed on screen and do you think it has changed over the years?
It has changed, thanks to OTT platforms. Firstly, we’re seeing older women in like Aarya, Delhi Crime, incredible women taking the front of the screen and that’s really encouraging. I still think we have a long way to go. We still have a lot of heroism, especially on the big screen. We’re getting there as more women directors begin to hold the reigns. I think about all the last directors I’ve worked with: Konkana Sen Sharma, Zoya Akhtar, Rakhi Malaviya, Anu Menon, Nitya Mehra and Alankrita Shrivastava. Women! I’m like, this is wonderful!
How to make cinema more inclusive?
India exists in different time periods in different places. The thing is, there’s an audience for all of it. With OTT and subtitling. It’s easier to watch everything in any language. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a village or in a city, you can still watch the same show. That’s a really fantastic development. That’s why we’re getting more raw, more interesting scripts. But again it’s about all the different roles being represented properly. You need to have an LGBTQ writer on board to really give that perspective. It’s the same with disability. You need a real person to tell the story.
Could you share some behind-the-scenes anecdotes?
I think I’ll talk about my most recent one, Goldfish, with Deepti Naval. Deepti is one incredible actress. She is somebody who showed me how important it is to be in the moment. When we were rehearsing, she would just be very quiet and just wander the lines, just like floating around and doing her thing. Then the camera would roll and she would become this fierce fiery woman, transformed. She also didn’t know what she would do. It was so unpredictable. So automatically, you react. If someone’s shouting at you, you react. You’re not prepared for it. It’s even more genuine. She brought that magic and it really showed me that you have to be in the moment, present when the camera is rolling. That’s been a really good learning experience.
Being in the same environment as these legendary actors, how does that help an artiste?
I think you have to look around your community for support. You have to find people who can think like you and also challenge you in the right way by giving you the right criticism. I’ve been lucky to have those people around me like Richa Chadda and Radhika Apte. We are those women who are about to hit 40 and there aren’t that many roles for women in Bollywood so we create those roles for ourselves. Using each other’s resources has been really helpful and working with people who push you and challenge you, even when it comes to theatre. I work with Rehan Engineer and Anamika Haksar, who are fantastic and just pushing me to be better.
Any directors anywhere in the world you would want to work with?
Greta Gerwig! Yeah, why not?
How do you differentiate between Kalki as an actor and as a writer?
They’re quite intricately woven together. Even when I’m just acting, I often use writing as a technique. Maybe I’ll write some letters that Faiza wrote to Adil or to Tara. I might just use that as a form because it gives me some background. Similarly, if I’m writing something, I often perform it first, just for myself. How will this feel? Then I write it.
What do you have to say about the recent issue that has come up with one of the episodes of Made in Heaven, in relation to the character played by Radhika Apte?
I do have opinions but I don’t think it’s my place to say. It’s the writers and the makers of the show that have to take responsibility for it. I really love the episode and I think it’s a very powerful episode. Very beautifully performed by Radhika.
So how do you view Faiza’s character in Made in Heaven? Do you think there is guilt involved in terms of betraying her best friend?
She does, at the end of the first season and at the beginning of the second season. But when she finds out about Tara’s other manipulations, she feels absolved of that guilt. I don’t think it justifies what she did, but I definitely think Faiza is a heart-on-sleeve kind of girl. It’s her heart that makes her fight for anything. Whether that’s leaving her abusive ex-husband despite her family not being okay with it. Whether that’s protecting her unborn child. Whether it’s wanting love with Adil. I think she is a heart-on-sleeve person. That’s her saving grace.
Any upcoming projects?
Yeah, Goldfish. It’s releasing on September 01. There’s going to be a screening in Hyderabad also. It’s rare that we get to see these kinds of films on a big screen. I have another film called Kho Gay Hum Kahan coming at the end of this year. It’s a Tiger Baby production, a new director called Arjun Singh with me and Siddharth Chaturvedi.
Any advice to new upcoming actors whether on stage or in cinema?
I think what we can do is have platforms of our own because we are in a world of social media. Don’t keep waiting for work, it will come and it will go. There were times when I hadn’t had work for two years in a row. So create, keep creating. Write that content and make it yourself. You can produce it at no extra cost these days. You can do it with just your phone. Keep at it, eventually, people will know you if you’re good.