Cover story - an interview with Kalki Koelchin

It is not every day that a celebrity from Bollywood responds positively to a request for an interview across the miles in Doha. Not when the actress is about to release a star cast film and on the heels of a myriad projects. I considered myself fortunate when Kalki Koechlin agreed to an exclusive interview for Community.
Surprisingly, the voice on the other end of the line was friendly and totally unpretentious. “I’ve never been to Doha yet, unfortunately,” she said, “Of course, I’d love to visit. Who knows maybe we could come to promote a film there soon.”
Kalki isn’t like other celebrities who sometimes let stardom get the better of them. Her story is one that sets her apart from the crowd. For starters, she doesn’t have family ties or connections that would make it easy to land the laudable roles she’s been acquiring on merit.
Born to French parents, who have lived in Pondicherry, India, for more than 40 years, Kalki speaks Tamil as fluently as she does French. She says, “India has always been home.”
Perhaps, it is her unconventional looks that landed her a debut rolein the film Dev D in 2009. But there was no mistaking the enormous talent. After playing the role of a prostitute in the film, she was later told by the filmmaker that other contenders had overdone the part during the audition, where as she was the only one who understood the role in its entirety. She won a Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actress for the film in 2010.
Kalki has trained in drama and theatre at the Goldsmiths, University of London, where she also worked with a theatre company called Theatre of Relativity for two years. She admits London was a place that she really didn’t quite fit in. She isn’t Indian but didn’t behave like a typical European, so couldn’t be pegged in to any stereotype.
Kalki continues to work on stage which remains a passion. She co-founded Quaff Theatre, a theatre group in 2008. “I’ve just finished a couple of theatre shows in Delhi, last weekend. I love it,” she says. She has four plays running in the Indian capital and keeps a grueling schedule.
For Kalki working on her latest release Happy Ending — out last week — was a lot of fun. “It was great to work with Saif,” she says. Released by Illuminati Films, Happy Ending is directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. The film also stars Govinda, Ileana D’Cruz and Ranvir Shorey.
“I am playing the role of a crazy obsessive girl, who chases Saif’s character and quite can’t comprehend that he wants to break up with her,” says Kalki who admits that she is happy to work on comedy.
Despite a stream of successful films in what is known as parallel cinema she says, “It’s not like I have decided to merely work on dark subjects,” she laughs. “I would like to work on a whole range of cinema.” And indeed, in a relatively short but promising career, she already has.

In her capacity as a well-known personality, Kalki has openly spoken her mind and isn’t afraid to approach complex yet pressing issues. She has discussed child sexual abuse and even worked on an anti-rape video which went viral with more than 150, 000 views in just two days.
Making no qualms about her success, the 30-year-old actress adds, “I don’t know if I’m really trying to do anything different. I’m just trying to take up roles which interest me. I try to stay away from anything that’s stereotypical and too predictable. For me, a role is exciting when I get surprised by a character or a story.”
Kalki does not want to restrict herself to certain roles.
“I want to do all kinds of films. I think you can still be original even if you are making a commercial film. You don’t have to make only independent cinema. You can make good commercial cinema also,” she emphasises. One recalls her role in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, where she plays a rebellious college girl, who later gets married to someone who seems like her complete opposite.
An unusual role for Kalki in a film which has not yet been released commercially but already received rave reviews is Margarita with a straw. The film is one in which she plays a differently-abled girl with cerebral palsy, who discovers her own sexuality.
Kalki is believed to have insisted that she remain in a wheelchair throughout the length of the shoot to remain true to the character. Describing the film experience, she says, “That was awesome. It was a chance in a lifetime. Very rarely do we see a female protagonist playing the role of a disabled girl.”
There aren’t too many films in India that deal with subjects of this nature. Playing the part accurately she explains, “was really a lot of work with a lot of training involved. I did a workshop and I was trained for six months. But overall, it has been a great experience for me.”
How does her family see her current avatar?
Kalki’s mother is her biggest ally and, like most mothers, her harshest critic. “My mom is probably the more critical one in the family. She encourages me to train more. She thinks I should do more writing because I’ve been a writer since I was a child. They are very proud that I’m doing what I love. They watch all my films and enjoy them,” she explains.
Kalki has scripted a number of plays and even co-authored a film with director Anurag Kashyap. Will she direct her own film someday? She doesn’t feel it is the right time. “I don’t think I have the technical know-how as yet. It is something I would really need to learn. I love story telling. If in the future that happens it would be great, but right now, I don’t have any set plans to get into that aspect of films.”
She is about to embark on another big film as we speak. “I’m starting a film called Waiting and stars Naseeruddin Shah. It’s an interesting script about people in waiting rooms of hospitals.” The film is based on the story of two individuals who are waiting in the hospital watching their relatives suffer in coma. The two are aimless but it is the crisis situation that creates a bond between them. Though the subject is serious as the two struggle to find an aim in life, it is being said, that the story will be treated with humour. When I mention that it resembles the play, Waiting for Godot, she agrees. Working with a stalwart like Naseeruddin Shah is daunting for the actress even though she has worked with him in the past. “It is scary, I have to prepare well,” she laughs, nervously. Something tells us she has another hit already in the waiting.
This interview was conducted just ahead of the release of Happy Ending on November 21.