The exotically named Kalki Koechlin, who debuted in director Anurag Kashyap's acclaimed ‘Dev D’ and more recently, went on to marry the director, has famously been known as Bollywood’s trouble child. This image has been inflicted upon her for the kind of roles she has chosen to do. While most ‘white’ girls have been confined to item numbers and dialogue-less roles, Kalki surely stands alone with meaty roles that have helped her carve a niche for herself. Her performance in the critically-acclaimed ‘Shaitaan’ and the festival-hopper ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’ declared one thing- she’s here to stay. Clearly excited about her next release ‘Shanghai’ she met Kunal Guha from Yahoo! India for a chat. Excited- because she reached the venue (a dingy manager’s room at PVR Juhu) before this reporter did. Here is a transcript of the conversation:
What inspired and excited you about your role in ‘Shanghai’?
I am a big fan of Dibakar’s work. When he called me in the last minute and told me about this project, I was very excited and just accepted it.
But what was the brief given to you and how did you translate it?
I wasn’t given a brief, I was just shown the script and that really excited me. Dibakar wanted a white girl in the movie, someone who was an outsider to the system and is then exposed to it. My character was that of someone who is feisty, passionate and has her set of ideals. She is not only very much Indian, she also believes that India can and will change.
Drafting Abhay and Emraan
Since you play such an idealist, are you one in real life?What are the things that separate you from your character?
Shalini is much angrier person than I am. Then I think she’s also much more of an idealist than I am. I feel more hopeless about our situation and I think that corruption is so ingrained at every level of our system that there’s very little hope.
You play the role of someone who is very righteous, could you identify with the character and was it difficult to portray it?
I could obviously identify with the angst of a white girl and how we’re treated by society and how we’re singled out. Men will always have the same stand and like to address us as ‘Hey baby! Hey sexy’ and elders will be quick to assume that we’re morally bankrupt which is not how I see myself. I think this perception is rooted to popular culture propagated by the media. Even when I was growing up, I always got a lot of lectures from my several people which were unwarranted. So I guess at that level I can connect with Shalini’s anger. I always felt that it was unfair because I was and am more Indian than most of my friends and I speak more Indian languages than most. On the positive side, since you’re seen as an outsider, people are exceedingly hospitable and friendly to you as well.
What were the challenges of working in ‘Shanghai’?
One of the biggest challenges that haunted me through the production of ‘Shanghai’ was working on my Hindi. Luckily, Atun Mongia, the casting director of the film helped me a lot with this. Then if I have to point out a specific scene, it has to be the one where I had to beat up this guy. The scene required me to be really intense and Dibakar (Banerjee) constantly pointed out that I wasn’t hitting him hard enough. After many takes, I finally managed but it was quite difficult for me.
All about 'Shanghai'
Has it ever occurred that you’ve been so absorbed in a character that its stayed with you even after the shoots?
I cut myself off when I am in that zone and ask people to leave me alone.
As an actor, what were your learnings from the film?
Dibakar is a perfectionist and he urges you and pushes you to give in your best. Even after constantly shooting for over 15 hours, he believes you can do even more. While the first take is often the most natural one and after several retakes- one can seem a bit rehearsed, Dibakar believes that certain levels can be pushed to improvement. Like there was a crying scene where he kept on urging me to be more intense and once I really stretched myself, I was able to deliver what he wanted. So I learnt that one needs to push the envelope to get the best out of oneself.
You have been branded as a troubled child in most of your films; do you think this image works for you or against you?
It works against you unless you want to do only dark cinema. But then this is true for any kind of stereotype. It’s hard to break them. I think by doing films like ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ I’ve taken a step towards it and proving the fact that I can do every kind of role. Personally, I like to do intense roles but then I think it’s very hard to do comedies or even romance. Any actor shouldn’t stick to any one genre of films or one kind of roles.
What were the shocking insights about small town India that you came across which you would like to share?
Nothing that I already wasn’t already aware of. One of the things that instantly becomes evident about small towns is the misplaced machismo of the men and how they ill-treat their women. While at the same time, a woman can’t abuse a man and get away with it. She would be abused physically and mentally and could even be killed. There is a lot of pride in being a man in small town India.
Why do you think this misplaced machismo is absent in urban men?
This is mainly because times are changing and women have realised that the chief role of their lives isn’t to just make babies and round chapattis.
Since this film is about corruption and politics have you personally had a brush with corruption?
One comes across it in everyday life. From getting a phone connection to managing to get past a traffic cop, its so interlinked and engrained in our lives that there is little respite. We cannot stop or curb corruption overnight since the government and even the alternative government is equally corrupt.The film doesn’t provide a solution but makes of comment on India today. It may be based in small town India but it is synonymous with modern Indian politics.