With TV shows, theatre, web series and ‘unconventional’ movies, national award-winning actress Kalki Koechlin is one of the most versatile actresses of today. She talks about things close to her heart.
Explorer in a true spirit, Kalki, in a candid tête-à-tête, sheds light on her secret wish to do an item number, perform a conventional heroine who settles down with her beau and honing her talent with each project.
Margarita With A Straw, which got you a national award, dealt with disability. How was the experience?
As an actor, it made me realise the importance of rehearsal and riyaaz. For this movie, I would prepare a lot before arriving at the sets. It was also a reality check. As an individual, it brought a lot of awareness about disability. It’s really frustrating to be at the receiving end because it makes you dependent.
Being an artiste known for her unconventional choices, what are the challenges that you face?
The biggest challenge is to follow your heart and keep minting money. A lot of projects that I fell in love with are also the ones where people say, ‘oh, paise nahi hain’. Movies consume a great amount of time. It’s difficult to survive when you are investing six months in a project which is not giving you remuneration. To meet practical ends, I try to strike a balance between my artistic choices and commercial cinema. The other struggle has been the wait to find the right work. Sometimes, you don’t get good opportunities to prove your mettle.
So what are the lessons hardships leave behind?
Struggle is a part of life. I believe we exist to learn. Once we stop learning, we stop living. As adults, experiences teach us more than formal education. I have been lucky to meet talented people in my career who taught me so much. In theatre, I got to learn from artistes like Rajat Kapoor, Anamika Haksar and Atul Kumar while in films, directors like Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Shonali Bose became my mentors. They exposed me to alternative kind of thinking. As an actor, improvising your skills is important.
Most of your films have got an ensemble cast. What convinces you to take them up?
I check if my character is essential to the plot. In all the multi-starrers that I have done, my characters have contributed thickly to the plot. For instance, a chunk of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani revolved around my wedding. Secondly, there should be relatability to the character. In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, my character was quite a brat. Overall, the character might not look impressive at the first glance, but it should have some human aspect to it.
How do you interpret stardom vis-à-vis social media?
Personally, I owe it to social media because it allowed me to have my independent voice. It has helped me in reaching out to millions of people. I was performing The Printing Machine (a viral poem written by Kalki on women empowerment) at several spots for a year like varsities, auditoriums but it catered to a small amount of audience. When I released it online, it became a rage. I love my Twitter life. On the other hand, it is very addictive too. I was in Arunachal Pradesh and didn’t have network for days. Suddenly, it was a different world, so close to nature, uninterrupted by technology.
You have been a staunch believer of women empowerment. What baffles you the most?
I have been a tomboy all my life. I could never understand why girls are treated differently with a list of dos and don’ts. The more we keep them inside homes, the more mysterious they become. They should be out there doing all kinds of things that a man can do. And same goes for boys.
How do you react to criticism?
I select criticism. If there is a positive or useful feedback, I take it. But blind criticism on Internet from nameless people cannot be taken seriously. I value criticism from people who know me.
What have you learnt about the economics of theatre?
It’s tough to sustain yourself in theatre. In the West, theatre shows run for a month or two which gets your production costs as well as some profits. But here, you just do one weekend show and then there’s a break of two months to take it to the next city. This way, it takes much longer to recover the cost of production. So you tend to keep costs very minimal and emphasise on performance of the actors.
Would you write a movie script?
I enjoy playing with words. My mother saved all my poems since I was six years old. I usually use it as a tool to enhance my performance. But it is tough for me to write a novel or script. I cannot do it every day. It terrifies me. I cannot force it. In fact, I did collaborate with Anurag Kashyap to write That Girl in Yellow Boots. If there comes an idea that really compels me, I will do it.
Gender wage gap is being challenged all over the world. What are your thoughts?
There are occasions where women are paid as per the significance of characters. Like I got the best for Margarita With A Straw, where I was the main protagonist. Women all over the world are paid less than a man for doing the same job. That needs to change. We need more women at the top for a balanced perspective. She can give you a fresh perspective, possibly more gender-conscious.
What keeps you occupied?
Work. I am going off on a three-week US tour in July with Rajat Kapoor for his new play. It’s a dark version of clowns doing Macbeth. I have also shot for Konkana Sen’s directorial venture Death In A Ganj, a psychological thriller. I’m also doing a web series called Smoke with Ali Fazal and Mandira Bedi, about political mafias of Goa.
Written by Karan Bhardwaj