ELLE June 7th 2019

Kalki Koechlin on how a decade in Hindi films has transformed her

It isn’t hard to spot Kalki Koechlin from a distance; not with that pixie haircut which shaves at least five years off her age. She’s a good 10 minutes early for our appointment at a café in Versova that she’s picked out because it’s pet-friendly. Except that they won’t allow her into the inside (air-conditioned) portion of the establishment with Kiara, her gorgeous Persian Greyhound, a gentle giant who isn’t likely to hurt a fly. “So you’re not pet-friendly then?” Kalki asks the owner calmly. On being told that the rule is such on account of patrons that aren’t comfortable with pets around them while they eat, she asks again, although she’s really only making a point: “Oh, so you’re only part pet-friendly?”

We settle at a table outside, in the non-air-conditioned part of the café, where Kalki lays out Kiara’s rug (“It’s from Morocco; she’s a Bedouin dog”) and orders her a boiled egg before we dive into a chat about her life and work.              

Rajeev Masand: Kalki, you’ve said on many occasions that your “skin is white and heart is brown”. Did you struggle with your identity while growing up?

Kalki Koechlin: I have early memories of playing with my Tamilian friends and not feeling like I was an outsider. I went to an international school, Hebron, in Ooty, so I felt quite at home there. But I do have some memories, like when we would go to Kovalam beach on a holiday when I was a teenager. My Indian friends were there, but only I would get asked for drugs...(laughs)

RM: You’ve worked with Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, and Alia Bhatt, but your life and career choices are so different from theirs. Has the ‘A-lister’s’ journey ever seemed attractive to you?

KK: Of course, I have dreams of wanting to do a main role where I get the guy in the end. You know, I’m the undiscovered Meg Ryan. But I don’t think I could only do that. I want to do other things as well.

RM: What’s the trick to making a character like Faiza in Made in Heaven vulnerable? She does some questionable things.

KK: Many people hate her. I had an argument with this lady on a flight. She said Faiza was like Cersei in Game of Thrones. I said, “What are you talking about? Faiza isn’t Cersei, she doesn’t chop people’s heads off!” For some people, Faiza is really horrible. And I was surprised. Because in those therapy scenes, she’s constantly flipping—she’s not able to control herself and is also probably dealing with past traumas.

RM: You work in a business that’s obsessed with unrealistic standards of beauty. Have you ever been under pressure to change how you look?

KK: Of course, many times. I have thought, “I am not pretty enough” or “My teeth are too big”. I remember going to Hollywood once and this female casting director asked me to come closer to see the wrinkles around my eyes. So it’s just not in Bollywood, it’s world over. But I have grown more confident over the years. I feel more beautiful than I used to.

RM: Tell me, how has #MeToo changed things in the business?

KK: I don’t know how much it has. There seems to be a lot more consciousness when you do a scene today, which is great. But other than that, there hasn’t been that much change. Honestly, I would say that we have forgotten about it.

RM: You’ve been cast in the second season of Sacred Games, a show that got so much love. Does that influence your decision to take up a role?

KK: Yeah for sure, I loved the show. It’s weird, because though one can be a fan, one can’t while doing the show.

RM: What interested you about this character?

KK: This character straddles the past, the present and the future. She comes from a chaotic background and then becomes this ‘shanti’ person who is in an ashram, working with Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi’s character).

RM: What are your next jobs?

KK: Umm, nothing. Nothing that I can talk about. I’m in talks for one film, though.

RM: Does that make you insecure? This is a business where they say you’ve always got to have the next job lined up.

KK: It has been like that in the past, but now I see the pattern. The good jobs are few and far between. Of course, I have a podcast and the theatre going on. And I keep writing. I am also in a very happy place. I have found love and I’m settling in. I do worry about what I’m going to do next. But by the end of this year, if certain things work out, I will be very busy. So okay, let’s enjoy this time walking the dog.

RM: It’s been 10 years since Dev D, which was the turning point for you. Do you feel like Mumbai and this industry is home?

KK: Yeah, I think I do. I have a very close-knit group of friends and community here. There is always a sort of creative buzz around me, which I enjoy. I do hate Bombay many times, like I want to live in the hills or near trees.

RM: How different were you as a person during Dev D?

KK: I was more chaotic, selfish…younger and self-conscious. I was worried about everything—the accent, language, how to act. It’s also where I met Anurag [Kashyap, her ex-husband] and we got close; that whole gang. It’s really nice to have started somewhere like that.

RM: Finally, do you know where you’d like to be five years from now?

KK: I would like to be less stressed about work. My aim is to be less ambitious, and more focused. And, I want babies.

RM: A bunch of them?

KK: Let’s see if I can manage one. This [pointing to her dog Kiara] is practice.