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Kalki: The Atypical Life

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It was a moment of vindication though she was not looking for one when Kalki Koechlin walked across the stage in Rashtrapati Bhavan to accept a well-earned honour for her role in Margarita with a Straw.  This was a film that normalised and mainstreamed a cerebral palsy patient as a full-bodied, ferociously intelligent protagonist. The kind we have never seen before Kalki’s Laila looked life in the eye in the final scene and blew a kiss. When I spoke to her over the phone a few months ago for a radio interview, Kalki was shooting in McCluskiegunj, in Jharkhand for Konkona Sen Sharma’s debut film A Death in the Gunj. The interview could be done only around 9:30 on a Sunday night as her schedule was packed and this was possibly the only time she had to herself but she agreed to do it. Not asking once how the conversation would be packaged and where it would be used.


There was also the matter of me fumbling with the settings and asking her to repeat atleast 15 minutes of her spontaneous conversation because her voice had not been recorded and she did it sportingly. So yes, she is reassuringly normal in a business where vanity, a sense of entitlement and impatience mark the arrival of a major game changer. And that she is, without overemphasis on the fact that every time she talks about gender violence, be it physical or inflicted by social constructs, she dents the Internet. One of the things that come most naturally to her, is writing and on restful days she likes to get offline, read, take a long bath and pen her thoughts. And like her recent viral poem The Printing Machine, most of her responses come from her need to confront and deconstruct the reasons why women are preyed upon on the streets, in homes, in the media. She said, “It starts from a personal space where I feel angry or helpless about the way things are and end up writing about them. That is the first draft and then I polish it and it becomes a poem, a performance of whatever it is meant to be. It does make a difference even though the fact that I write in English, restricts my work to only the urban strata. It is in any case, not just one person’s responsibility to wave a magic wand and change things. It is up to all of us.”
She recalls how when her video about the victim shaming that accompanies and follows rape went viral, the  male friend of a friend realised how wrong he had been in putting the onus of personal safety on women and  the way they dressed. She is also politically aware though the need to make others see and judge the “mahaul,” as she puts it, does not preoccupy her. Says she, “There is so much going on today politically, socially. We are such a diverse country and we can only survive as a society if we are tolerant.  I keep jotting down my thoughts about what I see and hear but don’t know what form they will take. I feel also that it is not anybody’s job to tell anyone what is right or wrong but to put up a mirror and show how we as a society function.” This approach of not preaching but showing the truth also works well when she talks about gender crimes. About child sexual abuse.
She did not say how abominable it was. How morally wrong. She just shared her own story with us and emphasised the need for survivors to speak out. She concedes though that speaking out is not easy for everyone as many survivors may not have the support system to do so. But she says, speaking and sharing can be huge starting points for healing because they make you realise that you are not alone. Parenthood, she adds, should come with the responsibility of teaching children about how to protect themselves. About good and bad touch. About sex. Something as natural as periods.
With a mind like hers, how tough it is for her to work in an industry that routinely stereotypes women? She says, “I do like to look for scripts that don’t stereotype women. For layered characters that do not just define a woman as the good girl or the bad vamp or a bimbo. I am an actor and I don’t mind playing even a bimbo if there is something more to her that makes her human, layered and full. I must get the context of that person. A film like Margarita with a Straw does not happen very often. Our writing lacks complexity but then I have a job to do and I need to earn and to work though I try my best to make characters as real as possible.'” As for the awards? She laughs, “Honestly, I don’t live for awards. My real reward is work and the opportunity to come by out of the box scripts.”
And because she has always chosen to follow her dreams, what would she say to those who can’t?
She affirms, “It is easier to be brave today. There are so many platforms that make us aware and give us a space to express ourselves. We have the social media, the Internet, TED talks that afford us the freedom to think and articulate ourselves. There will always be people who will identify with us and show us that they have gone through what we have. We have so many freedoms that previous generations did not have. If you are aware that you are unhappy, that is a start. From here, you can work towards finding what you want. “
A longer version of this interview was recorded for Timbre Media
Reema Moudgil is the editor and co-founder of Unboxed Writers, the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, a  translator who recently interpreted  Dominican poet Josefina Baez’s book Comrade Bliss Ain’t Playing in Hindi, an  RJ  and an artist who has exhibited her work in India and the US and is now retailing some of her art at http://paintcollar.com/reema. She won an award for her writing/book from the Public Relations Council of India in association with Bangalore University, has written for a host of national and international magazines since 1994 on cinema, theatre, music, art, architecture and more. She hopes to travel more and to grow more dimensions as a person. And to be restful, and alive in equal measure.

If you like this, you may also like:

  1. Kalki: Margarita With A Straw Opened My Eyes

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