Film, theatre, 4,000km biking expedition: Kalki Koechlin is busier than ever

Shoots, promotions, theatre rehearsals, biking expeditions. Kalki Koechlin may not be swamped by film roles, but she’s busier than the busiest of actors. Days after she’s back in town, and before her new play opens, we catch up
Updated on Jun 02, 2016 10:04 PM IST
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ByArundhati Chatterjee, Mumbai

Kalki Koechlin may not be swamped by film roles, but she’s busier than the busiest of actors. Days after she’s back in town, and before her new play opens, we catch up

It takes us a month to fix an interview with Kalki Koechlin (32). We reach out to her. She diverts us to her manager. Then the manager becomes inaccessible. We wait for over two weeks. We finally get a date. And then, at the last minute, we’re told that Koechlin doesn’t want a photoshoot. Fine, we say. Let’s just get this done.

The long wait ends on a weekend, and we meet the actor at her Versova apartment. As it turns out, she’s quite the gracious host. Before we can settle down, she pours us a glass of water — a blessing in this scorching summer. We’re beginning to like her already.

We’re still curious, though. We can’t help but ask exactly how hard-pressed for time she is these days. She smiles, then gives us a low-down of her past few months: “I shot for documentary film-maker Sabiha Sumar’s Azmaish — Trials of Life; worked on Rajat Kapoor’s play What’s Done Is Done [which premieres this weekend], shot for Koko’s [Konkona Sen Sharma, for those not on nickname basis with the actor-director] A Death in the Gunj; rode a bike over 4,000km of rocky terrain in north-east India; and followed by my latest release Waiting’s promotions. Now, I’m gearing up for the play’s premiere,” she says. By the end of June, she says she “might” get a break.

The cast of What’s Done in Done, Rajat Kapoor’s clown version of Macbeth
The cast of What’s Done in Done, Rajat Kapoor’s clown version of Macbeth

Amid this hectic schedule, she was also in Delhi for her first National Award win (for her role in Margarita With a Straw; 2015). Koechlin fondly recounts the mock drill ahead of the function as being “very funny”. “A day prior to the ceremony, there was a rehearsal session. They had a stand-in President and a stand-in assistant to the President. It was fun. But what’s really nice is that you get to meet film-makers from regional cinema; that’s an eye-opener. And of course, it’s the biggest honour in cinema you can get in our country, besides the Padma Awards,” says Koechlin, who wishes to, someday, work in Tamil cinema and use her fluency in the language to her advantage.

Back on stage

In her latest project, Koechlin plays Lady Macbeth and doubles up as one of the witches in What’s Done Is Done, inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is her second theatre collaboration with director Rajat Kapoor (she was earlier seen in Hamlet — The Clown Prince), who’s built a reputation for his clown adaptations of the Bard. “Rajat always works on improvisation and devising. Although we borrow bits from the original texts, we add our personal stories. It’s a big exploration process,” she says.

Koechlin has also written an essay for a British Council project, which commemorates Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary. “They wanted me to write an essay on a Shakespearean character, and his/her relevance to our country today. I chose to write on Ophelia [from Hamlet] and her duality; the duality that’s seen in Indian women today,” she explains. But will we see an anthology of her writings in print anytime soon? “I don’t have that kind of substantial writing. All my poems or snippets are spoken word pieces, or something I would want to create visual pieces out of. And though there are a lot of writing offers coming my way, only time will tell if I publish anything,” she says.

READ MORE: Radhika Apte: Theatre actor to thinking cinema’s poster child

Content matters

Koechlin is one of the few actors who actively works across theatre and film, all year round. Presently, three of her plays are ongoing – The Living Room, Hamlet, and What’s Done is Done. For most film actors, stage takes a backseat once their Bollywood career takes off. But she strongly feels “there’s plenty of time when you’re waiting for the right script”. She is honest enough to admit that, at times, there are long spells without film work.

She dedicated half of the past year towards her debut theatre directorial — The Living Room. But there’s never a lack of offers, only a dearth of content-driven ideas, she insists. “I’m open to all mediums — web, TV, cinema. I don’t even mind featuring in a video that only goes up on Facebook. For me, content is king,” says the actor, whose limited filmography testifies the same. Since her debut in Dev.D (2009), Koechlin has been discerning about the offers she accepts. With only a few mainstream films to her credit — Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (2013), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), and Happy Ending (2014) — Koechlin has carved a niche for herself in the indie film circuit.

Her latest, Waiting, co-starring Naseeruddin Shah, and her upcoming film, A Death in the Gunj, further add to that. There has never been a rush to sign multiple projects. A couple of times, she has only had a single release in a year. And while she waits for the next intelligent script, she turns to theatre. “Sometimes, there’s no work, or a film gets delayed by months. As an actor, I feel a constant need to train my craft. A musician can practise on his or her instrument. But actors can’t rehearse by themselves; we need an audience, we need feedback. And for me, theatre is that daily riyaaz,” she says.

Only work, no play

In July, What’s Done is Done goes on a three-week US tour, ensuring Koechlin will be on her toes again. But the actor is not one to complain. Her idea of an ideal holiday is to “watch movies, sit in the bathtub, read a book”. However, she is quick to add that she can only spend two such days in a row. “I am not someone who can lie on the beach for a week. Are you a steak that you are out sizzling there? I’d rather learn a skill like surfing or skiing,” she says.

She will also be seen on a travel-based TV show, for which she embarked on the bike trip mentioned earlier. She was accompanied by her father, Joel Koechlin (an aviation entrepreneur), and together, the duo traversed the rugged landscapes of Meghalaya, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh over 14 days. “My father has always been the biker. I was mostly the pillion rider. But, now, I am a pro, too,” she smiles, adding, “I learnt to make momos, and the basics of archery and kayaking.”

What’s Done Is Done will be staged on June 5, 7.30pm
Where: Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point

Tickets: Rs 500 onward on

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