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Bollywood’s Unconventional Star


She’s the girl who in her own words fluctuates between rickshaws and air-conditioned cars, shacks in Goa and resorts in the Mauritius, red carpet gowns and kurta pyjamas and ordinary roadside chaat to fancy helpings of sushi.

When asked what she loves doing away from the big screen, Kalki Koechlin said: “I’m hyperactive and outdoorsy. Any chance I get, I leave the city and go trekking, swimming or skiing. But I also love reading and playing my guitar. Basically, I get out of the limelight and become more introspective.”

This twenty-eight-year-old doesn’t sound anything like your average Bollywood actress. Born in the small village of Pondicherry in India she grew up with two French parents who settled in the country after falling in love with the place back in the ‘70s.

Having grown up in a boarding school in Ooty, the actress is fluent in Tamil, French and English. It was after her time studying drama and theatre at Goldsmiths University of London, and spending time working for a theatre company, that Kalki decided to try her luck in the world of Bollywood.

She was snapped up for modelling and television assignments and then made a very unconventional film debut, playing the role of a prostitute in Anurag Kashyap’s critically acclaimed Dev D.

Speaking about her first-time experience in front of the camera, she said: “It was exciting and scary. On the one hand I was feeling so inadequate with my knowledge of the camera and on my Hindi, but on the other hand everyone was helping me along the way, giving me advice and I was learning something new everyday, so it was a very exciting time.”

The 2009 film, which was a modern take on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novel Devdas, was a huge success and saw Kalki scoop the Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Chandramukhi.

When asked how tough it was to get her big break, she said: “It is by complete luck that I got the audition for Dev D, so I cannot say if it is tough or easy to get a break. It’s luck – but once you get the break it’s hard work and requires a lot of focus.”

Commenting on the language barrier, Kalki said: “My Hindi was so basic, I could only say where I wanted to go, ask directions and order food – you know the basics to get by in Mumbai. But suddenly I had to learn to use complex language and swear in Hindi with attitude! I had to work very hard and for two months had Hindi lessons everyday. In fact I still have to work hard today.”

After the release of her debut film she was reported to have started dating the film’s director Anurag Kashyap, who she married in a private wedding ceremony on April 30, 2011. A household with two movie buffs can have its advantages and disadvantages.

However, Kalki said: “I don’t take advice from Anurag nor he from me. We like to be responsible for our own decisions and we’re both very stubborn about our choices. We do talk about our work, but mostly just to let out any frustrations.”

Since Dev D the actress has appeared in a number of other films including Shaitan, That Girl in Yellow Boots (which she also co-wrote) and My Friend Pinto. Her most commercially successful film to date is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which also starred Abhay Deol, Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar and Katrina Kaif.

Not many people are aware of Kalki’s talents as a writer, but she was awarded the Hindu Metro Plus Playwright Award, along with Prashant Prakash for their co-authored piece Skeleton Woman in 2009.

With her main focus, however, fixed on acting, Kalki now appears in Dibakar Banerjee’s political thriller Shanghai, released on January 26. Speaking about her role she said: “I play a very passionate young student who acts before she thinks and gets herself into lots of trouble.”

As part of her preparation for the role she had to work once again on her Hindi and read the novel Z (which inspired Shanghai), as well as watching a few films recommended by the director. The film also features Abhay Deol and Emraan Hashmi in prominent roles.

While being surrounded by all the glitz and glamour of the Indian film industry can have its advantages, it can also be a very difficult place to survive. When asked what the hardest thing for her has been, Kalki said: “I guess it’s the assumptions that people make of you based on what is written or said about you, which is often not true. But this has also taught me not to judge people that I don’t know personally.”

Though I’m unable to grant Kalki her wish of having the power to change the world, I can pass this message onto her fans: “Please come to my films without expectations from my past films… I’ll always do something different.”

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