New Delhi: A childhood memory Kalki Koechlin finds impossible to forget is of riding a trike microlight (a kind of a powered hang glider) somewhere off the coast of Kanyakumari with her father and of the wind blowing so hard in their faces that it kept pushing them towards the sea. And she thought they were going to die.
Joel Koechlin, Kalki’s father, a biker and photographer, would often take her for these sporting activities. “From early childhood, I’ve involved her in different activities—travelling, going to the mountains, flying, she has been doing all of that from a very young age,” Joel said. “She has spent a lot of time in her adolescence on the back of my bike. So it’s just natural that she’s decided to get on a bike of her own.”
Joel is referring to the eight-episode travel show Kalki’s Great Escape that the father-daughter duo is out with on FOX Life this month. Starting 17 September, it shall see the two intrepid travellers explore terrains of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya on their bikes, a concept they came up with since Joel essentially wanted to travel to the north-east and wanted the trip recorded.
FOX Life is a lifestyle and travel channel owned by the Fox Networks Group. It was known as Fox Traveller earlier.
Biking across rugged terrains is not the only unusual part of being Kalki Koechlin. The 32-year old actor who won the National Film Special Jury Award for her portrayal of a cerebral palsy patient in director Shonali Bose’s coming-of-age drama Margarita with a Straw this year straddles several platforms—film, theatre, and most recently, digital shorts like comedy group All India Bakchod’s (AIB) It’s Your Fault, a satirical video on rape in India, Culture Machine’s Printing Machine, a video on the approach that media and society take towards crimes against women and Y-Films’ web-series Man’s World. None of these have been conscious decisions though, she said.
“It comes from a natural tendency to be interested in certain topics,” Koechlin said. “But then people make it into an issue calling me a woman-oriented actress or someone who thinks about feminism and so on. I am a feminist, absolutely. But I don’t go around thinking I have to create a feminist story. If it’s something that is bothering me, like the fact that every time I step outside, a man has to look me up and down, it makes me angry, it makes me passionate, that’s something I get involved with.”
The collaboration can happen either way—the actor may herself come up with something like the Printing Machine which grew into a bigger project or a group like the AIB may approach her since she has a voice. There is no plan, just like the actor has no idea which issue may bother or interest her next.
“Again, it’s instinctive. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be working with kids and I’ll find that they are very sensitive in terms of how they react to adults fighting…It all depends on the situation you’re thrown in and what you observe and learn from it,” she said.
Born in Pondicherry to French parents, Koechlin grew up in Ooty, speaking English, French and Tamil and deeply involved in acting and writing. A course in drama and theatre at Goldsmiths, University of London led to a film debut in Anurag Kashyap’s by-now cult classic Dev D that won her rave reviews besides earning Rs.13 crore in box-office collections.
Critically acclaimed performances in films like Shaitaan, That Girl in Yellow Boots, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and most recently, Waiting followed, but Koechlin has refrained from taking up too many projects.
“I’m not choosy, I just don’t get that many films coming my way,” she said. “I suppose there is some amount of choosing that goes in but you become a victim of your own image, people think she only wants to do one kind of film. Like after I did Dev D, I got ‘bold’ roles. After Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I became the rich bitch. After Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, I was offered spunky roles and after Margharita, disabled parts. Each time, it’s my conscious decision to break out of that and say I want to do something I haven’t done before.”
Koechlin, who will next be seen in Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut A Death In The Gunj to be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is currently attending workshops for a film by first-time director Rakhee Sandilya on married life in urban settings, says it’s a good time to be in Bollywood for someone like her. Emphasizing that she’s always been in the industry and outside of it, Koechlin recalled how she didn’t do any films for two years after the success of Dev D, so involved she was with theatre. Even today, while she does keep in touch with some people in the industry, she’s also not someone who’s particularly concerned about being seen at every event and party.
“I think once you get your career rolling, you don’t have time for those things. But I feel very much at home,” she admitted. “Bollywood is growing in terms of diversity, in terms of the actors we have, the stories and scripts we’re coming up with and I think there’s space for all kinds. A lot of changes have happened in the last ten years and I think it’s a very good time to be in Bollywood for someone like me because I don’t adhere to a commercial sensibility completely. I don’t do song-and-dance very much but I can still have a flourishing career and no dates on my calendar. There’s interesting work happening all the time so for me, I think that’s a great sign.”
Juggling the duality of keeping up a certain image and appearance as a public figure and reminding people that as a human, you’re entitled to have your own thoughts and ideas is a struggle for sure. But Koechlin has ample support from father Joel.
“I don’t feel a duality. It’s all part of her and she’s very comfortable with it,” he said. “When I see a movie with her, it’s strange that I don’t see her as my daughter but as one of the actors. I just watch and enjoy the movie or not, depending on how it is.”
As the father-daughter duo bursts into laughter, Koechlin is quick to point out that it took him three years to watch Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and pronounce the title properly.