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Home / Art and Culture / Right now, I don’t have the tools for directing: Kalki Koechlin interview — Part II

Right now, I don’t have the tools for directing: Kalki Koechlin interview — Part II

In conversation with actor Kalki Koechlin, the actor talks about her one-time directing a play and reveals how theatre “isn’t only about the script” for her.

art-and-culture Updated: Dec 30, 2019, 15:11 IST
Yoshita Rao
Yoshita Rao
Mumbai
Kalki Koechlin
Kalki Koechlin


For actor and expectant mother Kalki Koechlin, love is one of the themes in the play Sounding Vanya — which was recently staged in Mumbai, at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture — that she relates to the most. Speaking of how she relates to themes more than characters, Kalki shares, “Dr Astrov (a character in the play) has this recurring theme of speaking about how we are destroying the planet by cutting down trees. This was 120 years ago where a character in a play was talking about climate change. So, that’s another theme that resonates with me.”

In a phone interview, the versatile actor talks about her thought process before accepting a role and the positive changes in theatre over the years.

Tell us something about your latest play.

Sounding Vanya is an interpretation of Anton Chekhov’s 120-year-old play, Uncle Vanya: Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts, which is told through the actors’ various modern mechanisms and a live music performance. In the play, a pianist and a group of actors will interrogate Chekhov’s text, dismantling and rebuilding it.

How and why did you choose to be a part of Sounding Vanya?

Well, I wanted to be a part of this for multiple reasons. I love working with Rehaan Engineer, who is a fantastic theatre director and he pushes you in new directions every time. This is my third play with him.

You have been a part of many unconventional scripts, for both films and theatre. What is your thought process before accepting a role?

It’s instinctive — if I read a script in one go and I am absorbed in it, and not distracted, it’s a yes. Sometimes, it’s the sheer uniqueness of the script and sometimes [what interests me is] if the character is something I’ve never done before. But mostly it’s a gut instinct that I get before accepting a role.

Could you give us an example of a few such roles you’ve accepted?

I’ve learnt a lot from having done the clowning work with Rajat Kapoor in Hamlet — The Clown Prince, where I played Ophelia. It was something I had never done before. I also enjoyed playing a 12-year-old girl last year in a play called One Flea Spare.

What is your favourite kind of theatre format to watch?

I like modern theatre. In Mumbai, I like what The Patchworks Ensemble are doing. They’re a company by Sheena Khalid and Puja Sarup. I find their work very original. My favourite from around the world are Complicité (theatre group based in London, UK) and Robert Lepage (Canadian playwright). I like plays where people push the boundaries.

Kalki Koechlin (right) rehearsing for the play, Sounding Vanya
Kalki Koechlin (right) rehearsing for the play, Sounding Vanya

...And to perform?

Unlike films, theatre isn’t only about the script for me. The format is also really important because firstly, I get to experiment a lot more with theatre as the stakes are not so high. I tend to choose things that are more out of the box, in terms of interpretation or format or trying new things such as changing the staging or several actors playing several characters.

Since The Living Room in 2015, are there other plays that you have directed or plan on directing?

No (laughs). To be honest, I haven’t had much time to write another script. Of course, I have my own monologues, which I keep doing every once in a while that I’ve written and self-directed. But I haven’t planned to direct a play any time soon.

Would you like to?

Maybe at some point. Right now, I don’t have the tools for directing. The Living Room was really hard for me. It took up an enormous amount of time and energy. And if you’re also an actor and working on other things, it’s very hard to do. It (directing) requires a special kind of dedication, which I’m not ready to give right now.

What do you reckon is the good change in theatre over the years?

The good part is that there are companies and artistes doing fantastic things like Sunil Shanbag, whose work I’ve always enjoyed. But he’s also veering towards other formats like using singing in his performances.

It’s also nice to see smaller places which allow for this kind of experiment like G5A and Harshad Studios. It’s nice to see alternative spaces sprouting out as Prithvi theatre and NCPA are booked out a year in advance.

You have been active on the podcasts scene as well. How do you manage it all?

There are lulls in your career because you won’t get one script after another. So, it’s great that I can explore another creative form because I can’t sit around waiting for work. At times, it does get overwhelming. But it’s also a breather. You meet different people than you do in the industry. Many of the people I interview for my podcast don’t even know my films. And that’s refreshing.

We sometimes live in this frog’s pond in Bollywood where we think everyone knows us, but there’s plenty of other things going on in the world.

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