Since her debut turn as Chanda in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D (2009), Kalki Koechlin has managed to carve a niche in Bollywood. With performances in films such as That Girl In Yellow Boots (2011), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Margarita With A Straw (which won her a Special Jury National Award), Koechlin proved that she is adept at acting in films that belong to diverse genres and schools of filmmaking.
The actor recently appeared in Konkona Sen Sharma’s much lauded directorial debut A Death In The Gunj. The film which also features Vikrant Massey, Tilottama Shome and the late Om Puri among others, casts Koechlin as Mimi, an alluring and attractive writer who uses her sexuality to her advantage.
We recently caught up with the actor in which she spoke about her journey in Bollywood, the experience of working with Konkona Sen Sharma as a director and the road ahead.
Republished below are excerpts from the same.
Q: Tell us about your experience of working with Konkona Sen Sharma on A Death In The Gunj?
A: Konkona was not convinced about casting me for the role of Mimi. She wanted to cast an older woman for the role. So she auditioned me a couple of times and I was very nervous about it as I don’t have to audition often. But the auditions convinced her to cast me in the film.
As a director, she is a perfectionist and very detailed. There is a lot of specificity to the way she directs and was good even with the smallest of details. She always knew what the shot was and how she wanted to execute it.
In order to prepare for the role, we also did a workshop with renowned casting director Atul Mongia. Konkona also recorded all the lines of Mimi for me in a Calcutta accent so that I could practice and listen to them. I had to exercise a lot of restraint to get into the character of Mimi. She is very different from how I am in real life. She is very calculative and prim. And I don’t think I am much like that in real life (laughs).
Very Disappointing To Not Get Good Roles Nowadays: Konkona Sen Sharma
Q: You have worked with established directors such as Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai) and also in the directorial debuts of Bejoy Nambiar (Shaitan) and now Konkona Sen Sharma? What differences have you observed with regards to their creative process? How did that influence your process as an actor?
A: Honestly, I didn’t feel much of a difference. But some directors work differently than the others. Bejoy, for instance, doesn’t talk much to his actors and likes to improvise on the spot. While Dibakar is always feeding actors with ideas prior to a shot and storyboards even the smallest of details.
As an actor, it is necessary to adapt to different working styles. There are different methods of working and some are easier than the others. I find it very difficult to be specific and detailed at times. I prefer to let the emotion drive the scene rather than the technical details. But at times, you have to go with your director because there is a larger vision at play. Every film has a visual language which is bigger than the actors and every actor needs to realize that.
Q: It’s been nine years since you made your debut with Dev D. How would you describe your journey? What new challenges have you placed before yourself as an actor?
A: Yeah. I am getting old (laughs). I feel that I am constantly learning as an actor. And I think I have been lucky to have worked with some of the best directors in the country and not be restricted to a specific genre. Though some films are a lot more challenging than the others like Margarita With A Straw for instance.
But the biggest challenge now I face is to break my own image. A lot of people approach me with a preconceived about who I am. So either you get typecast or they do not tell you how to act assuming that you know it all. So a lot of them are very polite and when I ask for a feedback on my performance, they tell me it was very good. And that is a danger zone. I feel it is really important to get constructive criticism in order to improve or else I will keep repeating myself. The challenge is to find people who are confident and honest enough to give you constructive feedback on your work as an actor.
Q: There’s a lot of talk happening about the experimentation happening in Indian cinema. What’s your take on it?
A: The experiments are largely happening with stories and plots. But not many are experimenting with the form or the filmmaking technique. But there are exceptions, especially down South where a lot of people are doing some great experiments with the form and technique.
I recently saw the Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery and was blown away by its music and the way it’s shot. It was very irreverent but very well done. I feel we still have a long way to go and personally I would love to be a part of more experimental stuff. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do conventional cinema.
Q: The mention of Angamaly Diaries, tempts me to ask about your plans to foray into Regional Cinema. Will we be seeing you in a regional movie soon?
A: I have a project in the pipeline and would love to talk about it at the right time.
Q: Your repertoire consists of commercially and critically acclaimed films such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Waiting and Margarita With A Straw. How have you managed to achieve this enviable balance and not be bracketed to any particular school of filmmaking?
A: I am lucky that I get approached with such roles. But the secret is that I listen to my directors (laughs). Ayan (Mukherjee) will work with me very differently from the way Anurag (Kashyap) would.
Ayan will tell me to keep it over the top and I have to listen to him because that’s the world he has created in his film. As an actor, you have to perform with conviction, find truth in your role and make it appear completely believable. You cannot suddenly be a realistic actress in a film which is completely larger than life. And the only way you can do it is by trusting your director.
Q: You have also been very active on the theater circuit having directed The Living Room and produced plays such as Hamlet and The Crown Prince. Could you talk about your experience of the same?
A: There is a completely different approach to acting on stage. It offers a far greater scope for actors to work on their body language. The platform of theater also offers more space for experimentation since the stakes are not as high in comparison to feature films.
Directing The Living Room was a great experience as it helped me to learn a lot about production and how set design, costume, music and other departments work in sync with each other. It also taught me how one can translate their vision onto the stage and extract performances from the actors. Since actors come from different worlds and schools of acting, the challenge is to try and bring them on the same wavelength. After having directed The Living Room, I have far more respect for directors now. And I don’t think I will be directing films anytime soon.
Q: You just answered my next question
A: I knew that was coming. (laughs)
Q: I came across an interview of yours in which you had stated that you found it a real challenge to write the script of The Living Room.
A: I don’t think I am a disciplined writer. I write only when I have a lot of time on my hands. I cannot multitask. While acting in a film, even if I have ample time between my scenes, I can’t sit and write. It has to happen at a time when I am not burdened by much work. While writing I would ideally like to seek solace and let the story and the writing process develop gradually. As of now, I write only when an idea is refusing to let go off my mind.
Q: You recently forayed into television with the show Kalki’s Travel Diaries. Could you elaborate on the same? Would you be venturing into television again in the future?
A: I loved the idea of the show since it was about traveling and I had never been to the Northeast. It also gave me a chance to spend a lot of time with my father. These were very tempting reasons that convinced me to do the show. But I don’t think I am very comfortable playing myself or judging a show. If it’s an adventure show, then I would be more comfortable playing myself on the small screen. I don’t mind playing a character if I am offered a really good TV show.
Q: What are your future projects?
A: I just finished my first web series Smoke which is based on the Goan Mafia. I play a Portuguese Goan DJ who gets embroiled in the murky world of Goan Mafia. I am also acting in a film titled Scholarship which is directed by Raman Bhardwaj.
Interview By: Aditya Savnal
Main Pic Courtesy- Celebrity Tonic