2009 marked the entry of an actress in Bollywood, Kalki Koechlin who not only carved a niche for herself by essaying challenging roles but also continued to nurture the love of acting through theatre. Of French descent, Kalki was recently seen in a beautiful film titled Margarita with a Straw that revolved around the theme of the life of a girl with cerebral palsy who falls in love with activist Khanum that creates tension within her family and social circle.
The actress has been appreciated and awarded for the bold roles she plays, both commercial and art cinema. A woman of substance, Kalki has used her art to address crucial social issues through her years in the industry.
We speak to the actor to know more about her life as an artist and the challenges she faces to portray the characters she picks for her films/theatre.
You played a very interesting character in your latest film, Margarita with a Straw, what was the most challenging part?
I thought the physicality and getting the Cerebral Palsy portrayal right was the hardest part until I sat on that chair for two months all the time during shoot and realized its the frustration of not being able to get around, of others being unaware about the disability and of course the staring, the infantilizing, and how that made me feel.
You play a girl with cerebral palsy. How difficult was it to essay the role without making it look unnatural?
It took months of preparation for the role. I took six months of informal work where I would spend an hour a day as my character Laila doing my daily chores or activities. It was followed by six weeks of an intense workshop with Shonali Bose (Director) and Adil Hussain on body and psychology. I had to put in effort to making the physicality muscles memory, making it a habit, as well as the speech.
Any instance where you may have perceived people with physical disabilities/special needs differently?
The first time I saw Malini Chib (Malini Chib is an Indian disability rights activist and author who has cerebral palsy) get a whiskey soda and I was taken by surprise and I was appalled at my own surprise and lack of exposure.
Tell us about your bond with Theatre and your experience with performing Colour Blind.
Colour Blind beads in a few misshapen pearls from Tagore’s long and winding journey. His childhood or what he himself quirkily termed the ”servocracy” period, his restless and conflicted youth, his writings and their myriad inspirations, and his controversial and achingly beautiful relationship with Victoria Ocampo in the autumn of his life.
I helped write Colour Blind. I like to write and create on stage, it’s like an actors gym. It’s a place to sharpen the physicality and diction as well as the ability to stay spontaneous in front of a live audience.
What are the challenges you face as an individual and how do you overcome them?
I struggle to find the balance between being candid and restraining all my thoughts which could be misconstrued or hurt others. I believe actions speak louder than words and find putting my truth and myself in my creative work has been the solution many times.
What gives you the greatest joy?
You’ve voiced your opinion on various social issues as a part of your work and otherwise. What drives you to address these issues and create awareness in the society?
I talk about something if I feel I can add to a conversation that will help bring awareness and a change.
A day in the life of Kalki
I wake up and stay in bed till I realize no one will make my tea. I go for a swim followed by a day of shoot. Usually I spend the time while I am stuck in traffic, surfing through Facebook and Twitter. Once I am home I watch an episode of game of thrones if I’m not too tired, or get a drink with friends if I’m not working the next morning. If I’m having a tough day, I might write some stuff down, that’s my therapy.
What puts you off the most?
Your biggest phobia and how you overcame it?
Scared of losing my mind, haven’t overcome that fear
The most ridiculous/fun thing you’ve done in your life
Climbed out of a hotel room window and slid along the side ledge and climbed into another room for a boy.
A recent film you wish you had done
I would have loved to be a part of the film Queen. Especially Lisa Haydon’s part looked so much fun.