Kalki Koechlin is one of the most versatile actresses we have in the industry today. Not only did she shun the stereotyped big Bollywood debut to start her career on the indie side of things, but she also broke boundaries by playing challenging characters on screen. I mean, who can forget Margherita With A Straw, right? On the other hand, she wasn’t afraid to make the leap from movie screens to theatres to podcasts and latest at the top of her list is an audiobook that she has narrated.
I recently caught up with Kalki and she spilled some major tea on the Audible audiobook called Mafia Queens Of Mumbai that she has narrated along with Rajkummar Rao and Radhika Apte and her next big upcoming release Gully Boy.
Kalki, you’ve done movies, you’ve done theatre, you’ve done podcasts and now you’re narrating an audiobook. So how did that come about?
It came about through my manager giving me a call. But I was super excited because I already read the book few years back when the book came out. I loved all the stories and I thought you’d never get to see that spectrum of female dons. So, I already knew the story so I didn’t have to think about it much, I was like yeah…These are fun stories to narrate. It’s still very much an actors job to find those little nuances and find those different voices of each characters and things, so I had fun.
Do you think you had an upper hand because you’ve already done podcasts and theatre?
I think the podcast gave me a head start for sure. Of course, doing theater and acting is going to help. But doing podcasts because I was listening to so many podcasts, I kind of got an idea of what works when you’re listening and it’s not as loud as when you’re acting on stage or even in films. It’s much more subtle. You have to stare at the narrator the whole time and you just add in a little bit of colour. So definitely the podcasts helped me.
Do you think it was a big leap because you’re an actor? Not every day do you see actors jumping into other mediums, but you’ve always done that, but do you think?
I don’t think its been anything new for me. I’ve been doing spoken word and I’ve been doing a lot of just playing with rhythm and speech. I enjoy doing that. For me, it’s not a big leap and I think it’s been happening in other parts of the world a lot. You know we’ve seen Nicole Kidman, big actors really voicing. You do it in animation, you do it in Audible. I think its nothing new but ya for us here in India it is pretty new.
It’s a pretty big step because you don’t see actors doing this.
But then we didn’t really see actors doing web series but now they’re lining up to do it. I think it is the new medium.
I want to know more about the story you are narrating- Mafia Queens of Mumbai. It’s basically stories about women from the other side…
The big part that I narrated was Jena Bhai. She was a very interesting and manipulative woman. She kind of quietly went about making things happen for different gangsters. Bringing peace between rivaling gangsters and it’s really interesting to see that she seems like an uninteresting sort of woman in the background that serves chai and stuff. But she’s kind of directing these bigger gangsters. That’s the main story. Then there were these funny stories that I also read, this one about Chota Shakeel. He was having affairs with many women. They were having cover names, they weren’t really their names. So these women were writing to him because he was in Dubai. They were writing to him with all the details. They were spying for him and they were also having affairs on the side. So he would romance these women and get them to spy for him. It was a very funny sort of story where you in between the business you get like “Meri Jaan, Kaise ho”. Love letters in between the business letters. Like I got the drugs sorted now, darling. Very sort of 1940 detective stories.
Talking about the film industry do you think it has changed through the years because you’ve always called them out for excessive show and glamour it projects. And somewhere foregoing the importance of acting?
I think there is a lot of more opening up in terms of content and I think that’s really evident especially in the world of web series. It also means there is a lot more rubbish because there’s so much… it’s like cowboy land right now and everyone wants peace. It’s going to take time to figure who is actually doing quality work. But the web series section has definitely opened up jobs for so many people. It’s not on based on just the hero-heroine story. Usually, there are so many characters involved in a web series that even if you are the so-called sidekick you have a proper graph.
But what about the films, do you think films lack it?
No I think Badhai Ho is a good example of a film. You see an older romantic couple. That’s something new. We haven’t seen that kind of content and that’s doing well. So I do think this will force a shift in cinema. It kind of takes a circle, the web series influences the cinema. Because the audience wants more choice. So I think that’s a really good place and healthy competition that we are getting. There’s nothing wrong with glamour either. I don’t have a problem with something having glamour. There are very glamorous films like Casablanca which are classics. But at the same time, I think the story needs to be interesting and driving the film not the celebrity or not the effects.
Is that why you think there’s a certain negative notion about people who are aspiring actors. Is that why you think people have such a perception?
No, it’s just a very hard career. There’s no guarantee even when you’re already established that you’ll have work. You will have times where you are just waiting. You need to create some other work, that’s what I do because I can’t sit around. It’s not a stable kind of job, but that’s also the fun of it. We never find ourselves repeating. We are never at the same place at the same hour of the day. It’s different everyday but at the same time, it comes with the price of not knowing what your next project is.
What about women in cinema? From when you began doing movies, do you think the roles you are offered are different now?
I think I already came at a point where it was changing. I think if you look at the 90’s in comparison to the 2000’s, there has been a lot of change in cinema. A lot of cult. I think Dev-D was like a cult classic in the sense it didn’t pick up in the box office immediately but over time it’s a film people will remember. You’d watch it again. So I think that had already started happening but of course, there’s plenty more work to be done in terms of roles for women. I think that will come when women are also writing for cinema cause then you get the female gaze and not just the male gaze. You know female directors…
I have started working with Nitya, Zoya, Alankrita. They have been directing me in Made in Heaven. Rakhi, Anu Menon…So many women directors I have been interacting within the last few years. I think that’s a good sign.
Do you think there’s a difference when you work with male directors and female directors?
You know it’s not like because they are women they are more sensitive. It’s not necessary. If you look at Reema Kagti’s films they are sort of masculine in terms of the subject. Heist or action. So I don’t necessarily think that because you are a female director its going to be a feminine subject. But I do think that it brings a different interpretation of the same scenes. Of course, me being a woman there are certain scenes where I feel far more comfortable like on the set of Magherita With A Straw we had some very sensitive sex scenes. It was really great that the director and the DOP were women. No men on set. I think it was hard for William being the boy who had to be naked on set. But you know it did help for sure. It does feel safer,
I think that’s what’s changing in the film industry now because there are more women DOP’s, technicians. I think it has to come from there. If you look at film set, 90% of the people are male. That’s the imbalance. It’s not that we have to artificially start creating only female characters in a story, that’s not realistic. We have to make the environment conducive for both men and women together.
When you are talking about a conducive environment for both the genders, what about pay parity?
I think its very unfair at the moment. There definitely needs to be equal pay.
Back when F.R.I.E.N.D.S was happening, all of the actors took a stand to say all of us need to get paid equally for the series. So, do you think that kind of a stand is lacking in Bollywood?
I don’t know if it is lacking in the sense that again it goes back to the business of it. If you are doing a male hero oriented film and the female has a smaller part and is only there to prop up the male’s story then you can’t be expected to pay the female as much as the male. Because the male is bringing the box office earnings. However, when you have a film like Queen where the hero is a woman. You know Kangana leads the film then she will get paid most. So, it again goes back to telling the story from the perspective of women as well as men.
What about supporting actors, then?
I feel the number of days should equal the number of pay for both genders. The number of time you give to your work should be equal for both genders, for all genders in fact.
Tell us about your upcoming projects? I mean everyone wants to know what you’re up to.
This great big film of Ranveer’s coming out, Gully Boy. I play a music producer in it. Ranveer is a rapper from the slums very much inspired by rappers like Divine. Some of them are even performing in our film. Ranveer’s rapping is really on the ball. He’s been rapping since he was like 10 years old. It’s his hobby on the side, so he’s very good. I had fun. Then there’s Made in Heaven which is a web series on Amazon Prime directed by Nitya, Zoya, Prashant and Alankrita. So 4 directors. That should be an interesting show I think. It’s about rich Delhi weddings going very wrong.
Lastly, you’re the face of Indie cinema and web series, you and Radhika both actually. Do you want to do more commercial films like Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani?
I want to do films that people watch for sure. Of course, I do. But that’s not my ultimate priority. My ultimate priority is to get good roles, good work. Good work that challenges me or excites me. So if that film is commercial, great! But that’s not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is to keep acting till I am 90.
Thank you, Kalki for being so warm and candid during the interview and we can’t wait to see you on the Big screen again with Gully Boy!
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