Among the fresher crop of actresses, Kalki Koechlin stands out for her 'foreigner looks' and unusual choice of roles, which have enabled the actress to carve a niche for herself in Bollywood.
Kalki started her Bollywood career in 2009 with the controvesial character of Chandramukhi or Chanda in Anurag Kashyap's (now her husband) film Dev.D, a modern take on the famous novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.
From the layered and disturbing introduction of her character as well as her gradual evolution in the profession of prostitution was evidently not an easy task for Kalki, but she managed it with elàn. Reviewers too, were impressed. HT critic Shashi Baliga wrote, "Enter Chanda, the multilingual call girl who can seduce in Hindi, Tamil, English and French. With her bee-stung lips, unusual face and refreshing lack of acting guile, Kalki Koechlin imbues the part with a touching fragility." After receiving critical acclaim for Dev.D, Kalki next featured in a film named Emotional Atyachaar (ironically eponymous with Dev.D's most famous song) in which she played the character Sophie, although the role was not a very prominent one.
Kalki's next performance was once widely appreciated as she was seen in Bejoy Nambiar's Shaitan (2011). While the film had several characters, mostly newcomers, Kalki's role was one of the meatier ones and she played a spoilt brat who decides to get kidnapped by her own friends for a ransom. About her performance, film critic Komal Nahta wrote, "Kalki Koechlin performs with admirable ease" and Kalki was even nominated for several awards like Best Actress, Screen Award for Best Actress In Negative Role etc. The film too, received good ratings from most critics. She eventually won the Global Indian Film and Television Honours for Best Supporting Actress for Shaitan.
The same year, Kalki Koechlin was seen in Zoya Akhtar's huge multi-starrer Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara. Among the star cast that included the likes of Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif and Farhan Akhtar, Kalki's role was probably the least prominent. However, she managed to hold her own by playing Abhay Deol's possessive, suspicious and temperamental girlfriend, clearly meant to be a dampener. Apparently, Zoya Akhtar had wanted to work with Kalki ever since seeing her in Dev D and That Girl in Yellow Boots. She felt that Kalki would fit the bill for the character of Natasha, since she had "the sense of comedy, but not over the top." About Kalki's role, Zoya told IANS, "She has got a very different role. She is not the heroine of the film. She has that sense of comedy and not over the top. I needed that balance in an actress who could pull that off. I needed someone with that sensibility and Kalki was perfect."
The film, too, was a success and collected several awards that year, including Best Film and Best Director, while Kalki was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. 2011 was by far, the most packed year for Kalki as soon after Shaitan, the actress was seen in another off-beat film (also directed by husband Anurag Kashyap) That Girl in Yellow Boots. Kalki plays the titular character, a British girl who's searching for her father, a man she hardly knew but cannot forget. As the dark plot of the film unveils, Kalki's character gets sucked deep into the miseries offered by the underbelly of Mumbai, only to reveal a rather shocking and disturbing end. Koechlin had, in fact, been asked to write the first scene of the film herself to give it her perspective as a 'white girl' in India. The film was Anurag Kashyap's first worldwide release and universally won critical acclaim.
Her last film of 2011 was My Friend Pinto, starring Prateik Babbar as the central character. While Kalki played the female lead, the film was nothing to write home about and failed at the box office.In 2012, Kalki made a special appearance in the Freida Pinto-Riz Ahmed starrer Trishna. And then, she was once again seen in Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai (2012) as the idealistic student who wants to get to the root of her professor's (who she had a special relationship with) death, which she believes to be murder. She co-starred with Emraan Hashmi and Abhay Deol. The film was received well by critics, though it didn't do much at the box office.
Kalki Koechlin's next Ek Thi Daayan, sees her in the role of a possible witch of some kind.
Kalki was born to Joel Koechlin and Francoise Armandie, who came to India from France met at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Auroville, Tamil Nadu. Her parents are devotees of Sri Aurobindo settled in a village near Ooty.
Koechlin studied at Hebron School, Ooty and her parents then sent her to study drama and theatre in Goldsmiths University of London, where she also worked with a theatre company called Theatre of Relativity for two years. She performed in various plays like David Hare’s The Blue Room, Marivaux’s The Dispute and a devised play The Rise of the Wild Hunt in her two year stint with the theatre group.
Apart from being her most significant year professionally, 2011 turned out to be an important landmark in Kalki's personal life as well. She married beau Anurag Kashyap in a private ceremony in Ooty.
On her choice of roles
“I refuse to be labelled. I’m not into preconceived notions. But I really do believe that we have such an opportunity to create different platforms where different genres, characters and narratives can coexist. I never concocted a plan to change the face of Indian cinema. But I was very adamant that I won’t change or mould myself to fit in... I’m only doing what I truly believe in"
"If a movie like Umrao Jaan 30 years ago could talk about sex so explicitly without really showing any skin, what are we doing today when we show only skin and refuse to talk about sex? I don’t know, but something seems off."
On kiss with twice co-star Emraan Hashmi
"No, there aren’t any. I always miss my chance of kissing Emraan. Even in Shanghai we did not have any kissing scenes together. I hope I get lucky if we do a movie together again!” - This was tongue-in-cheek!
Which do you prefer: Anurag, the boyfriend; Anurag, the husband; or Anurag, the director? "All I would say is life with him is great!"
On facing racism in India
This racism is something I’ve had to deal with all my life, been born and brought up here, but damn I still can’t get used to it. I go to a small town and men start talking to me in broken English saying things like "Hey baby" and "Saxy lady." I get asked questions by journalists such as "Why aren’t you in Hollywood?" and "Do you like India?" as though I had just arrived in this country yesterday. We like to separate people into neat little categories through their religion, the colour of their skin, the way they speak and dress etc… and I can’t help but feel that this racism and this fear of the different is what limits us as people.
On having kids
“I don’t want children of my own. There is no biological urge in me to become a mother … there is no clock ticking. I’d rather adopt. There are so many children in the world who need love,” she told us, adding, “I may change my mind later, but right now I don’t see it happening.”
(With inputs from Wikipedia)