(Photo: Shivaji Sen)
(Photo: Shivaji Sen)

Kalki Koechlin on love, death and why she will never endorse fairness creams

The actor talks about playing a lesbian, working with Naseeruddin Shah and why she does not believe in any religion.
UPDATED ON MAY 28, 2016 09:03 PM IST

On playing a lesbian in Margarita, with a Straw (2014)When I look at a script, I think of it emotionally. The political issues – whether gay rights or disability or sexuality – come later. If I can stand up for a story, if I can understand it, be excited by it, then I don’t mind that it’s a risky subject or one that is not explored often. For me, the scary part is getting the authenticity of such a character right.

On working with Naseeruddin Shah in the film Waiting
He loves to communicate a lot of things, discuss characters, and do rehearsals, but on the day of the shoot he will do something totally different. He can be very spontaneous, which keeps you on your toes. It is like somebody is going to throw a ball, but you don’t know in which direction and you have to be ready to catch it.

On still doing theatre
If you are a musician you practise your instrument every day, but actors can’t be on a set every day. Theatre is a way for me to keep practising my art form.

On death
It is the one thing we are all sure of, but we don’t address it very often, especially in our popular culture – our movies, songs or writings. We live in a society that is against ageing and loss. I think it is important that we accept it as a natural part of life and face it.

On the reason for art
There is a social purpose to art, but it should come out of a personal truth. When it comes from a political agenda, it is obvious.

On not endorsing fairness creams
I don’t think there is anything wrong with being fair, but it has become such an obsession in our country that it is all we look for in beauty. There are so many stunning people who are dark-skinned and it should be celebrated. I would love to have a product that makes me darker.

Kalki believes art should come out of a personal truth. (Photo: Shivaji Sen)
Kalki believes art should come out of a personal truth. (Photo: Shivaji Sen)

On being a feminist
Feminism is the crazy idea that men and women are equal. If you are doing the same job that a man is doing, you should be paid the same amount of money.

I don’t know why it has become so politicised; today, if you are a feminist, you are a man-hater. It is very important to understand that men should be feminists as well. This is because we live in a patriarchal world. If we lived in a matriarchal society where women ruled the world, we would need meninists. And I would be a meninist. But right now the balance of power is the other way – women need more attention and that is why we need to address it.

On not being religious
I am probably spiritual in the sense that I do believe there is more to life than what we see. I have grown up with Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. I went to a Christian school, grew up in a family that was spiritual and Buddhist, and Hinduism was also a part of my life because of the families living around us. The philosophy behind religion is to reach God. When it becomes politicised, it becomes about how you should dress, what you should say and do. Once you go past religion, it becomes spirituality.

On being a 30-something
In your 20s, you are worried about body issues, your weight, how you are dressed. In your 30s, you’re like ‘oh my god, I am getting old. I am going to enjoy everything’.

Books I would recommend to everyone
All actors should read David Mamet’s True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. Everybody should read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This book is about the hypocrisy of war, told in satire, and is hard-hitting and truthful.

A writer I deeply admire
I love Rabindranath Tagore because he was so ahead of his time. The way he managed to address life and death in his work; also how, politically, he was for understanding of humanity over political groups and ideologies.

The first thing I ever wrote
I remember writing a poem about a flower that has to be plucked. Though it is nice to give someone a flower, you are killing the flower. I was probably ten when I wrote it.

One thing I learnt from my parents
From my mom, it is discipline. I believe in practice and getting to places on time and that I think comes from her. From my dad, I have learned to laugh at myself. My dad always saw the brighter side of things even when we went through tough times.

On growing up in Puducherry
I grew up speaking Tamil, watched Tamil movies. I was in love with Tamil actor Suriya. We used to go to temples. The Aurobindo Ashram was a very strict place, its people pious and disciplined – no alcohol, no non-vegetarian food. We also learnt to meditate.

On the idea of love
Through popular culture, we believe it is like a fairytale, the ‘Disney’ idea of love where everyone lives happily ever after. But life is a little more complicated. Love is a very long-term idea. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be given time and worked on.

From HT Brunch, May 29, 2016

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