Not many would want to be in Kalki Koechlin’s shoes. But then, not many would be strong to try.
In her very first film, she ran the risk of being judged against the likes of Savitri, Vyjayanthimala and Madhuri Dixit who played Chandramukhi in the earlier versions of Devdas.
On the personal front, she went public about her relationship with her director and father of an eight-year-old.
The fact that Dev D is a sexed-up modern-day interpretation where Chanda happens to be a victim of an MMS scandal isn’t exactly something one can talk about without courting controversy.
“Half the country got off on that clip. They downloaded it. And, they turn around and call me the slut,” a splendid Kalki playing Chanda tells Dev in the definitive scene that instantly captures angst, reveals vulnerability and simultaneously, her strength.
“I watched a lot of world cinema with strong women characters,” Kalki reveals how she prepared to play one of the most complex characters onscreen in recent times. “These characters taught me a thing or two about how a woman’s strength comes from her vulnerability. She covers herself with a ‘No one messes around with me’ because she’s protecting something else underneath.”
Mention that the confident physicality of the character is striking
and she tells you it’s because “there were a lot of photos of Gia
(Marie Carangi), Marilyn Monroe and other iconic sexual symbols being passed around” for reference.
Did Anurag or she ever talk to the Delhi schoolgirl it is loosely
based on? Did they wonder if they were doing the right thing by
suggesting that the only choice left for her is prostitution?
“It’s completely fictional. The minute you take anything from real
life, you are going to put yourself in dangerous, controversial ground but I think it’s been done with sincerity and honesty. What are the possibilities when your family, people you love and care for – plus the public – judge you? Where do you go? We live in a world where there are a 1000 options, this is one route this girl happened to take. I don’t think the movie is about what she would end up as.”
Chanda wasn’t originally written as an expat/half-Indian role.
“That happened because I came in. Anurag works closely with his actors. Even in Mahi’s case, he wrote the character after having met her.”
Kalki landed the role after three auditions after getting a call from UTV. “When I moved to Bombay, I gave my photos to all production houses because I needed some income. I couldn’t live off theatre alone.”
Having recently won the MetroPlus Playwright Award 2009 along with her co-author Prashant Prakash for ‘Skeleton Woman,’ Kalki considers theatre to be her primary career.
“Theatre is the actor’s playground and film is the director’s. When
you are in film, you have to trust the director completely because there’s a bigger vision that you can’t see,” says the girl who came back home after studying theatre for three years at Goldsmiths, London and was also a part of a theatre company called Theatre of Relativity there for two years.
Post Dev D, Kalki’s parents, who are based in Bangalore, are relieved and happy. “For a while, they have seen me struggling and not making enough money to live out of theatre.”
Does she have more projects lined up with her filmmaker-boyfriend?
“No, no projects lined up. Everybody is very curious and cynical right now. It is very sensitive but at the end of the day, what can we say or do? We are together, we are happy and I guess, only time will tell.”
On ‘Skeleton Woman’
I first heard this Inuit folktale about a fisherman who finds a skeleton of a dead woman when I was in a theatre workshop with Anamika Haksar. We did a skit on it. When I was filming for Dev D, Anurag gave me a book with strong women characters. He had highlighted this folktale. It was a strange coincidence how the story kept coming back.
It was just an inspiration. Skeleton Woman is a love story but as the play continues, you know there’s something bizarre going on and everything is not as happy as it seems. It has a huge, strong, visual element. It’s larger than life and if there’s one thing that’s real in this relationship, it’s the people in it. But towards the end, you discover that even that is not real.