Kalki Koechlin, Girl Wonder

Kalki Koechlin, Girl Wonder

Welcome to the Katalysts. Four individuals from the disciplines of Film, Design, Space and Music who have blown our minds and made us squirm with their individuality.

The first of our Katalysts, Bollywood actor and theatre personality, Kalki Koechlin, truly needs no introductions. But for those living under a rock, here’s five fun facts/real reasons we think Kalki is an incredible presence, and a shot of adrenaline in the repetitive (and frankly, boring) world of Bollywood.

#1 Her parentage and childhood gives her a unique idea of what it means to be Indian.

Kalki’s parents, both of French origin, met in Pondicherry’s Auroville as devotees of Sri Aurobindo, eventually settling in Kallatty, a village near Ooty (Tamil Nadu), where she was born and raised. For a long time, Kalki, who grew up with kids in the village, speaking Tamil, only realised she wasn’t of Indian descent as she grew up and was made aware of her foreign appearance.

As she mentions in an interview with The Big Indian Picture, “There was a certain approachability that came with being this white girl, and at the same time I would retort in Tamil, and I would give it back to them and they would be like oh, no, no, you know, we can’t mess with her. It gave me almost a freedom to be able to shift between being this foreign looking girl who’s all naïve... and then to being this girl who actually knows everything about what’s going on... behind her back, so it gave me perspective.”

#2 She has no qualms speaking her mind for the marginalised in a patriarchal world – taking up women’s and LGBT rights.

Over the last year, India’s been through some interesting social upheavals and Kalki’s been extremely vocal about a number of issues. We applaud her for lending her voice to causes in a real and substantive way that gets the world’s attention. Apart from being part of the Mumbai based comedy sketch group All India Bakchod’s viral video “It’s my fault” that spoke of victim-blaming, she performed a moving monologue at the India Today Conclave 2014, which described the trials faced by women across the world. She has also been part of creating the Womanifesto, which details steps towards a more gender-equal society, proposed in time for election campaigns that are doing little and less for women voters. She has also been vocal about her support for LGBT rights, speaking out against Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality.

#3 She plays kick-ass women, every time.

As Ruth in That Girl in Yellow Boots[/caption] She began her career playing Chanda, a prostitute (Bollywood’s favourite profession to equally vilify and romanticise) in Dev D, a contemporary version of Devdas, Bengali literature’s epic story about love, longing and self destruction. Kalki’s Chanda became so loved, that audiences were left cheering when director Anurag Kashyap subverted the story’s end to a happy one, where Chanda lives happily ever after with Devdas. Since then her roles have been strong women, even when they’re annoying (as her character in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). She has praise from Roger Ebert too, who praised her portrayal of Ruth in That Girl in Yellow Boots, a story of a young girls search for her father (which Kalki also co-wrote), saying: “The film's value is in its portrait of Ruth, and her independence as a solo outsider in a vast, uncaring city. Kalki Koechlin creates a memorable woman who is sad and old beyond her years. Ruth is a slim, morose beauty, with long hair, full lips and a slight overbite; she's described as 'Bugs Bunny crossed with Julia Roberts'.”

#4 She’s a bonafide Bollywood star, but she’s still indie as ever

Kalki’s been a legit movie star from her first ever film Dev D, but she’s never let that be her only public face. Kalki moonlights as a theatre-wallah, putting her education in drama and theatre at Goldsmith’s to good use. She has acted, produced and co-written plays, such as Colour Blind, a play exploring Rabindranath Tagore’s life and relationships, in which she plays a young student writing a thesis on Tagore as well as Tagore’s Argentine companion Victoria Ocampo. Her current work in progress is simply titled “A Play on Death” and we can’t wait for opening night! 

#5 She turned out to be more fun and spontaneous than we could ever hope for!

We had no idea that Kalki’d be so enthusiastic for her pairing with Sameer Kulavoor. The designer and the actress had met only recently for the cover shoot of leading women's magazine, Femina's Graphic Issue. On the cover, Sameer’s quirky lettering and illustrations framed Kalki’s come hither looks. But all of us were amazed by how down-to-earth and absolutely spontaneous she was, encouraging the process as much as enjoying it. Her love for the disco-era of Bollywood matched Sameer’s and they got along famously, even breaking into impromptu song-and-dance routines, and doing the santra, a little dance move she came up with while creating “Santre”. By the time she left the studio, all of us were a little bit in love with Kalki.   

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