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Monday, December 4, 2023

Kalki Koechlin: “Doing Unconventional Characters is Something I Really Enjoy”

Kalki Koechlin is a powerhouse talent who has never shown away from playing out-of-the-box and realistic characters.

Within 10 years of commencing the acting career, she has managed to gain a widespread appreciation for her work.

As such, she is a recipient of accolades like a National Film Award, a Filmfare and two Screen Awards.

When it comes to her craft as an actor, Koechlin always fascinates us with her unconventional roles… Be it sex-worker in Dev D, a British Masseuse in That Girl in Yellow Boots or a young woman with cerebral palsy in Margarita with a Straw.

Even in popular mainstream outings like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, she ensures that her acting prowess is remembered and appreciated by the audience.

The year 2019, in particular, is quite special for Koechlin as she has faced incessant success following Gully Boy and Amazon Prime’s Made In Heaven.

Following a meaty role in Sacred Games season 2, we are certain that her career is heading for an upward trajectory.

Kalki Koechlin joins Filme Shilmy for a conversation.

You’re playing Batya Abelman in Sacred Games 2. Tell us a bit about your character and experience of working on the series?

Batya is Guruji’s apprentice and confidant. Her mother is Palestinian, her father Jewish.

She comes from a broken background and finds solace in the ashram.

My experience of working on the series was surreal, because the story is absolutely brilliant, and the makers backing this project are solid.

The series broke out in the entertainment space for its storytelling, production and interesting mix of characters; a combination you don’t often see.

You had to learn Sanskrit Hindi as well as maintain a French accent. How tricky was this for you?

With Hindi, I am a lot more confident now from what I used to be.

To be able to get the nuances of Sanskrit right, I still needed my lines in advance because I just always feel there is a slight accent to my voice.

So, I put a pen in my mouth (between my lips) and rehearse my lines. So, any of the two languages is still a challenge but the accents are fun.

I love trying a new accent and for the French accent, I have a mother who has a very strong French accent, so I had to keep her in mind.

Given that you’ve worked with Saif Ali Khan before, how easy does that make the entire process? 

Well, I really enjoyed working with Saif. He is a wonderful actor and so underrated. It was easy-breezy and we had a great time on set.

I hope Batya and Sartaj’s conversations will look very real to the viewers.

You’ve ventured into two successful Indian web-shows this year (the other being Made in Heaven). How creatively satisfying is it for you as an actor?

The two web series I have done has actually been very creatively satisfying, very different roles from each other and allow me to sort of explore new things, try things.

Throughout your career, you’ve played unconventional characters which exceed stereotypical Indian ‘heroines’. Did you ever feel apprehensive?

I don’t think you can call it apprehensive; doing unconventional characters is something I really enjoy.

Sometimes it’s frustrating to be stereotyped and put into a category because I really feel I need to break those categories, but that’s a challenge every person has to live with.

We are all put into labels.

Some of your roles have been that of a ‘westerner’ or ‘foreigner’ with an Indian side. What has it been like exploring both cultures since you’re of French descent, living in India? 

I find it very hard to see myself as a ‘westerner’ or ‘foreigner’ everything I have known ever in my life is been here my home is India, so I feel Indian.

However, I do have very French looks because of my descent.

So, I absolutely understand why people need to put that into their story sometimes and it gives me a chance to play around with that and because I studied in London I can do the British accent pretty well. 

Also, because of my parents, my mother especially has a very strong French accent so these are things I picked up as well.

Image Courtesy Rohan Shrestha for Netflix

You’ve been quite vocal about woman empowerment and gender equality. How do you feel about the current condition of India’s #MeToo movement?

There is a lot of work to be done. But there have been a few positive changes from the #MeToo movement.

I’ve witnessed it in some of the plays that I’ve done.

In one of the plays I’ve worked in, we were given a document with a code of conduct, which made it a very transparent workspace.

When it comes to acting you’ve covered a wide spectrum of characters. What style of roles do you think will further challenge you as an actor?

I believe there are many genres and types of roles that I can still explore.

I have always dreamt of doing a historical character, a biography/biopic, I think there’d just be so much research doing it will be really fun.

I have always been a history favourite student or top student.

A role that I’d love actually to do will also be an action-oriented role.

Something which is physically completely challenging, something where I’ll have to be completely trained and transform my body.

It is currently uncertain when we will see Kalki in an action role, but for now, we can applaud her for continuously pushing the envelope when it comes to choosing characters and films. 

She truly is a gem of an actor in Indian cinema. 

Sacred Games 2 is now available to stream on Netflix worldwide.

Alongside Kalki, the series also stars Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ranvir Shorey, Surveen Chawla and Pankaj Tripathi amongst others.

It is directed by Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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