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She is sitting in a red sofa at Taj Palace wearing a purple dress when we meet her. With a natural glow and smile, she asks, “Do you want something? I will have green tea.” Is green tea her beauty secret, we ask. “I know it’s a cliché but I think beauty is an attitude. You can have ten people dressing you up and doing your make-up but if you are scowling and sulking, you are going to look bad. It is really about the attitude, being present in the room and being in contact with human beings in front of you. It does reflect who you are as a person,” she tells us.
Predictably the beauty talk leads us to egg her on about the diva appearances on the red carpet at Cannes and if that is trivialising the films we end up showcasing there. With a clever flick of her hair, she says, “I have no idea about it. I have not been following. But I think Cannes has always been famous for its red carpets and fashion. And there is nothing wrong with the cosmetic appearances as long as the films are great and get equal accolades.” Having launched a woman’s razor brand a day ago, we wonder what she was doing endorsing a beauty product of all things. But Kalki says she has been careful to focus on its convenience. “I have always used razors as a teenager in my hostel. Look at my hands, I shave them even today. It’s a quick and easy option.”
Kalki, who made her Bollywood debut with Dev D, is all set to intrigue us with A Death in the Gunj. Directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, the film will release on June 2. “Did you watch the film,” she asks us. “Will you watch it with your friends, family and your dogs,” she questions. “Will take our neighbours too,” we answer. “That’s really sweet,” she says with a baby face.
Well, looks like Kalki isn’t very happy with her perceived innocence. “I had to audition twice for the film because of this baby face,” she shares. “This is Koko’s first film as a director. I really wanted to do it even before I knew the script. I was like, ‘Konkona is directing a film, I want to be a part of it.’ I auditioned twice for it because she wasn’t convinced. She wanted an older woman to play this particular role. Thankfully she liked it later and took me on board,” she smiles.
“One of the big things of course was to get this older woman vibe and naturally my tendency is very much like Aditi from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, very la di dah and tomboyish. This character is very poised and calculated. Mimi(her character) is a woman who uses her beauty to get what she wants. But she is also a part of the system of patriarchy where people use her to get what they want. It’s a classic case of those who get bullied, bully. The film is really about that. We worked a little on the voice, making it deeper. Mimi is a chain smoker and I don’t smoke. I would feel dizzy on the sets, my hands would shake. She had to speak a little bit Bengali, Koko taught me a little bit of that. We did a few workshops also to get into the skin of the character,” she adds.
How does she manage to reinvent herself between role switches? “You should take each role like the first one you got. That excitement should be there. It’s hard to do that sometimes when you are doing two to three projects. But you have to be an acting virgin. Every time you start a role, you have to start afresh and make it your own.”
Of course, being a thinking actor, she also has good things to say about her industry colleagues, who she believes have re-oriented the media image of women actors. “I think someone like Alia Bhatt has a good sense of humour, she knows how to make fun of herself. I think Deepika is also very graceful, she knows how to talk to the media. We do have substance and things which are outside our relationships and I think the minute you stick by that, people take you seriously. Keep talking more about your work and less about your personal lives, then it will be projected in that way.”
Kalki is happy with her trajectory so far. “I think I have been very lucky to work with some of the best directors of the country. Dibakar Banerjee is one of my favourite directors, Zoya, Anurag, Ayaan, Shonali and now Koko. It has been a very vast array of talent which is not specific to commercial or to independent cinema. Now I have done my web-series which is very different too. I am constantly learning.”
Quiz her about gender equality in the film industry and she gets animated: “Gender equality doesn’t exist. Not just in our industry but in every industry. It is global. But I think there is definitely more awareness. I have personally worked with four women directors in the last few years. I feel there is a change. More and more crew members, technicians are women now. The change is happening but it always takes some time. Maybe my grandchildren will witness this change. There are films which are very gender-sensitive and others which are crass. We still have a very hero-based society when it comes to commercial cinema. Usually, the hero is the main story and the heroine is the side kick. This hasn’t changed. But there are exceptions like Piku and Queen, where a female lead is the hero of the film. I was the hero of Margarita with a Straw. The answer isn’t to make a female-oriented film. What we need are more female perspectives. A woman can write different perspectives than a man. So we need that,” she says.
Any change that she would like to see in the film industry? “Better writing. I think we have the talent, we have great actors, directors, DoPs and crew. But writing is the most ignored. First, we don’t pay our writers well and second, we don’t actually have more than two drafts. Many times they just write and don’t develop the script. So I feel writing is probably the most important change I would like to see. I am positive about our films finding world markets outside the festival circuit. Platforms like Netflix have opened up possibilities. And I think there’s so much solid regional cinema that is being appreciated all over the world.”
Avidly followed on social media, Kalki has her own battles there but has learnt to take the good and the bad in equal measure. “We live in a very exposed world today with social media. Anyone can take a picture of you anytime. Even if you are not a celebrity, you get people randomly taking your picture or commenting on your picture on social media. So you have to be aware of that and be confident enough that you can take their comments which will not necessarily always be positive. In a way I think it’s very important that you be responsible for what you put up. What you put up is who you really are. You are what you post, I guess.”
How does she deal with the trolls? “You deal with it by not obsessing over it. Of course I need to be in social media. I am a public figure, I need to be there for my endorsements, my movies or even my personal work, the subjects that concern me or things that I care about. I find it a very beautiful medium for directly reaching out to my audience without going through a messenger in between. But at the same time, I know when to switch off. There are times when there’s too much trolling, I just stay away from it. And then at the end of the day your work speaks for yourself. The more you put your work out there, the more people will respect it. I do read the comments sometimes but I don’t spend a lot of time doing that. And I have stopped responding to comments as there are so many. But I sometimes put a general comment for my fans appreciating their love for me,” she remarks.
What’s next for the actress? “After A Death in the Gunj, I have Smoke, a web series for Eros. Then I have an international project which is on a feminist writer. I am working on the accent right now, the NYC accent,” she says signing off.
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