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An unlikely seductress

Hindi cinema’s latest Chandramukhi, Kalki Koechlin, has had a life that’s anything but conventional. Tasneem Nashrulla elaborates.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2009 23:12 IST
Tasneem Nashrulla

She describes herself as “a Tamilian in white skin” and was named Kelki after the last avatar of Lord Vishnu by her French parents who are devotees of Shri Aurobindo. Born and brought up in India, she speaks Tamil, plays the guitar, practices yoga, is passionate about theatre, has studied in Ooty and London, dislikes the “straightforward life” abroad, loves Mumbai and prefers the local train to a taxi.

And she lives-in with a man ten years her senior, also the director of her debut Hindi film in which she plays a half-French, half-Indian prostitute. So Kelki Koechlin, the 25-year-old actress of the upcoming movie Dev.D,
is only stating the obvious when she says, “I attract the unconventional.”

In a casual vest and skinny jeans, her auburn hair loose, Koechlin could pass off as one of the many foreign tourists roaming the city in an autorickshaw. “I can’t dance,” she admits, awkwardly prancing about for a photo-shoot, but then sportingly obliges with a filmi twirl. “Meri Hindi bahut kharab hai (My Hindi is very bad),” she says with the faintest trace of an accent. Alarming confessions that certainly wouldn’t have escaped the notice of Bollywood banners like YashRaj Films, where Koechlin dropped her portfolio a few years ago. A few modelling assignments later, Koechlin found herself auditioning for a role in UTV’s new movie directed by Anurag Kashyap.

Understandably, her debut film is not your run-of-the-reel Hindi movie. Koechlin plays Chanda, a new-age Chandramukhi, in Kashyap’s stylistic adaptation of Devdas. In this version, the lovelorn courtesan is an ordinary schoolgirl — loosely based on the Delhi Public School student caught in the act with her boyfriend on a widely circulated MMS clip — who turns into a kinky call girl. “I was seduced by the glamour of the role, previously portrayed by Madhuri Dixit,” says Koechlin.

But the role of a prostitute is not played out at a superficial level, she asserts. “It’s not just about sleeping with men.

What she does during the day is juxtaposed against what she does at night.” Koechlin’s theatrical background is evident from this profound character assessment. After studying theatre at the University of London, she and a few friends recently started a production company called Kuaff Theatre, and are working on their first play Skeleton Woman. “It’s about the disintegration of a relationship between an ambitious woman and a writer lost in his own world of dreams,” she says.

Speaking of relationships, Koechlin doesn’t pull the old ‘we’re just good friends’ line on her own. “Anurag (Kashyap) and I got on really well. He asked me out during the shoot, but I was like, ‘you’re ten years older to me and my director!’” laughs Koechlin. But she consented, and moved in with Kashyap last year.

The media also much of the fact that Koechlin was talking dirty with callers on a multi-lingual, phone sex line — a marketing gambit for the film. “My character has phone sex in the film,” she says, clarifying that the chat line is not live, but uses her recorded voice.

Phone sex, MMS scandals, and prostitution — these don’t quite add up to a fairytale debut. While she admits it was embarrassing at times to act in front of the largely male-dominated crew, Koechlin says, “I look at it very objectively.

It’s a role and it’s not really me.” Suddenly the free-spirited ‘hippieness’ gives way to a solid, grounded young woman.

“Work is work. I can’t sit and wait for ideal roles to fall into my lap, she says. “I’m ambitious, but my ambitions are happiness and stability.”