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Kalki Koechlin on being young

entertainment Updated: Aug 12, 2011 14:58 IST
Kalki Koechlin

As teenagers, we want to be taken seriously and try to look older. And as we get older, we cut our hair and dye it, to look younger. We are always in regret or in longing — never really looking at the present, but aspiring to be so-and-so in the future, or wishing we had done so-and-so in the past. As a young person (I hope I still fall into the category, I’m 27), I have to advocate for the fact that we are not a bunch of carefree, fun-lovers without responsibility.

In fact, being young can be quite tough. You have to build an image that caters to popular culture and at the same time stand up to your parents’ expectations. And in our country, parents’ expectations and popular culture are often diagonally opposite things, and finally you have to prove yourself to a cynical world that most often only recognises its geniuses when they are old or dead! How does one stay true to oneself and still move with the times? It’s not an easy question and the answer lies in experience, maturity and age — all of which, youth, by proxy, contradicts.


Personally, I have found my experience of being a young, working person in Mumbai a constant fight. My fight has been mixed with the fact that I am not only young (and look a lot younger) but that I have a job viewed more as amusing entertainment than as a profession, and finally also that I am ‘white’. Whatever path I could have decided to follow in life — be it a doctor, a businesswoman or a lawyer — the fact that I am Caucasian, has ensured that I will stand out. At best, I will be ‘different’ and at worst, I will be ‘foreign’. Yes, it frustrates me no end when people ask me ‘How long have you lived in India?’ or ‘Do you like spicy food’ or ‘Why don’t you go to Hollywood?’ when I was born here, when everything I know is Indian and this is home.

Yet, all of this is who I am: a young, energetic, serious, Caucasian, Indian actor. Not only have I stuck to this confusing identity stubbornly and faithfully, I have also used it to my advantage. The best example I can give you is the character I play in the upcoming film That Girl In Yellow Boots where I play Ruth, a British Caucasian girl who comes to Mumbai in search of her father. Here, she is impounded with the general male gaze propagated onto white-skinned women, she is ridiculed for not understanding a woman’s place in a male dominated culture, and she is above all a foreigner who has outstayed her welcome. I have been stared at and judged throughout my life for having the appearances of a foreigner, hence it is easy for me to imagine what discrimination Ruth would go through, and I have purged it by helping write the script and acting in the film.

My reader may not be able to relate to my exact experience, but every young Indian I know is living between contradictions; those of what mum says and what the boyfriend says, or what the government claims and what the potholes show, or what language you speak at work and what language you speak at home. My advice to all young readers is this: take your anger, your frustration and your confusion and use it to shape who you are; create your own point of view; and to drive you in your passions. And live today, for tomorrow will have its own battles to fight.