My French lineage and my skin colour made me stand out. It made me strive harder to be more Indian and more Tamil than most other kids I grew up with. I used to clown around as a kid and make others laugh. The recognition made me feel special.
Life at boarding school
I went to Hebron School, Ooty. Life at boarding school made me independent and taught me to be social, extrovert, louder, faster and most importantly, a survivor.
Drama and theatre were part of the extra-curricular inclusion programme at school. That’s where I got my first exposure in acting. My parents got worried about me when
I told them that I wanted to study theatre. My father said, “I feel you are making a mistake but then as part of learning, one should be allowed to make mistakes.” I joined a three-year course in drama and theatre at Goldsmiths, University of London. In London I also got to work with Theatre of Relativity for two years.
My friends supported me while I was doing theatre and modelling, and not making much money. The journey was, no doubt, not easy but they made it easier for me to sustain myself before I could afford a place of my own in Mumbai.
The choices I make in my professional life are influenced by my mixed upbringing where I grew up watching French cinema and alternative Hindi movies. My first Hindi movie was Dev D. It was terrifying to be in front of the camera. I didn’t really know what I was doing or was expected to do. There was a lot of a leg-pull. I was doing a scene where I was supposed to walk out of the building and they didn’t say ‘cut’. I kept walking...
Hugely critical of my work
I am insecure and hugely critical of my work. I fear I might get comfortable with what I do and not strive harder. Once you get famous, you get attention which brings in praise as well as criticism and both can go to your head. I have learnt to take it all in my stride and with a pinch of salt. What terrifies me the most about this profession is the ‘bubble’. You socialise selectively and end up in a bubble, disconnecting yourself from the rest of the world. You stop learning and are cut off from reality. It’s a vicious circle. I try and keep myself in the company of people who are honest and brutal, not just polite, and help me become a better person. Also, I keep myself grounded by doing theatre. The working conditions are very different from what you experience in the film industry.
Aspirants must love acting
To me, acting is therapy. It lets you get your demons out, offers catharsis and relief. But it is a lot of hard work. I wish to reach out to the aspiring actors to share with them that there is a big difference between wanting to act and wanting to be famous. You have got to love to act. Otherwise you get desperate. If it is fame that you seek, then there are ways to get it.
I admire Anurag, my husband, for his resilience and spirit. He may not necessarily be doing the right thing but he puts in the most honest effort and stands by it. He doesn’t give up and is such an inspiration. He has played a huge role in my journey to where I am today. Professionally, I admire Daniel Day-Lewis, famous for his role in Philip Kaufman’s Unbearable Lightness of Being.
My upcoming project is a movie called Shanghai by director Dibakar Banerjee. It’s a thriller, slotted for a June launch. I play Shalini, a very earnest and innocent student-political activist who wants to change the world.
My parents got worried when I told them that I wanted to study theatre. My father said, ‘I feel you are making a mistake but then as part of learning, one should be allowed to make mistakes’ —Kalki Koechlin, actor