Actor Kalki Koechlin is the sum and substance of a true artiste; one who trod down the rabbit hole and found a little more than just wonderland
When Kalki sets forth her thoughts on love and marriage, the dialogue begins with slapstick humour: “Can I be on the cover of Femina Wedding Times and not believe in marriage?” She follows that up with an infectious laugh. With that, the mood for our conversation is set.
Possessing an outlandish spirit and razor-sharp wit, Kalki has a neoteric frame of mind that reads like an open book. “I don’t have a problem with marriage,” she says, reading my silence. “I’ve been married myself and I was very happy to be married; but I think in modern society, marriage isn’t the necessary next step everyone makes it to be to have a committed long-term relationship. I think marriage was a concept created at a time when we needed to protect the woman and the child; when the woman wasn’t a working, independent person. But now that women have evolved to the point of being self-sufficient, I personally don’t see marriage as a necessity.” But don’t be quick to misconstrue her views on marriage for pessimism. “I wouldn’t be totally against getting married in the future should it seem like the natural next step to take,” she says.
In the middle of a scorching summer, our crew has assembled under an open sky to set up for the cover shoot. The brief—Mad Hatter’s Tea Party—is anything, but a breeze. Macarons, cupcakes and large top hats sit pretty on the table, as Kalki steps out for her first shot.
Her curious eyes survey the elaborate couture, fine jewellery and the fairy tale-inspired set. “Speaking of fairy tales, I fell for the fairy tale too. I believed in the Disney idea of love and marriage and now that I’ve experienced it, maybe if I were to get married again, it would be a simple court affair,” she discloses. I ask her if she no longer buys into the concept of the big, fat Indian wedding; if all she sees is a game of show. “It’s all about what A, B and C want, and in the bargain, the couple ends up having the least amount of fun! Of course, love should be celebrated, but the priority should be the couple!” she exclaims.
Outfit: Manish Malhotra; Jewellery: necklace and earrings: Tanya Rastogi – Lala Jugal Kishore Jewellers; ring: Sunita Shekhawat; shoes: Badgley Mischka available at Berleigh, Mumbai
Outfit: Sabyasachi; Jewellery: Sunita Shekhawat; Shoes: Badgley Mischka available at Berleigh, Mumbai; Clutch: Zara (Stylist’s own); Sunglasses: Kalki’s own
Between a now weather-beaten crew, a patient photographer and deliquescing desserts, Kalki’s coolas-a-cucumber demeanour and steady resolve to get the job done are what got everyone’s attention. Although, she is theatrical about the conditions—entertainingly so; but then again, the world of theatre is her self-proclaimed first love. “I learnt a lot of my craft from theatre. I keep saying, for me theatre is like going to the gym. I go there to keep my acting in check. Your voice, body, skill set—everything gets reinvigorated. What you do on a live stage, as opposed to the movies, isn’t reliant on post-production work or editing, and so there’s a certain rigour and riyaaz required to be able to perform on stage. If you spend 12-13 hours a day in a vanity van, you’re going to become complacent in your work, so you need to step out of that box, I feel, to be an evolving actor,” she says.
During our time on set with Kalki and through our chat, what I’ve come to like most about her is her no-holds-barred approach to conversation. Neither does she hesitate before letting you into her thoughts, nor does she dish out a sugar-coated point of view. So, I decide to pick her brain on the most recent industry debate: Nepotism. “Oh, I feel like this is such a stale topic! Nobody dared talk about it when it was all-powerful in the 80s and 90s. At least today, there are so many financers and businesses from outside the industry who want to put their money in cinema. In my opinion, as long as you get financers coming from outside the industry, you’ll also get talent seeping in from outside and that’s starting to happen,” she asserts.
Outfit: Falguni & Shane Peacock; choker necklace and haathphool: Sunita Shekhawat; kada and rings: Tanya Rastogi – Lala Jugal Kishore Jewellers
Coming to Bollywood, Kalki’s popularity lies in her ability to take on unconventional roles, balance theatre and film with panache and surprise the viewer with power-packed performances each time she’s in the spotlight. Despite a sublime body of work—Dev D (2009), Margarita, With A Straw (2014), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)—Kalki is well aware that Bollywood is still a very hero-oriented turf. “Of course it is, and let me say, it’s not any different in Hollywood either. Maybe you have an exception to the rule like Meryl Streep, but it’s still very largely hero-based [filmmaking]. I think if there are more women writers and directors, you’ll get more female perspectives in a script; having more women on the crew can balance the perspective a bit more. I feel like I’m seeing more female ADs or DOPs in crews and the last four directors I worked with were female. So, the industry is showing positive signs of change,” she feels.
She’s won a national award, made theatre her eternal playground, created all the right noise with Printing Machine (the viral YouTube video) and she’s co-written a screenplay. “Everyone asks me if I’m going to direct films next,” she says. “Right now my answer is ‘no way’ because it seems like the most stressful job plus I’m not ready to put my house on the market; it’s a lot of pressure. I think writing has taken centre stage with the onset of web series and everyone is looking for prime content to showcase. Between theatre and films, acting consumes my time, but writing is something I see myself being drawn to more and more,” she reveals.
By the end of our conversation, Kalki promises me she’s going to continue acting and making her way to the stage even when she’s 95 years old, albeit shaking with old age. “I want to be relevant. I don’t want to be stuck in a certain time,” she says, speaking of her spell as an artiste. Needless to say, she’s found herself in wonderland.
Photographs: Nuno Oliveira; Styling: Lynn Lobo; Hair and make-up: Angelina Joseph; Décor and set-up: Mpire Luxury Wedding Planners; Location: Jade Garden, Worli-Mumbai