Kalki, a French touch in Indian cinema

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She is more Indian than French but her intercultural roots adds a vibrant and fresh take to her work. Meet Kalki Koechlin.

You might have seen her chatting up clients in Tamil and French in her very prized and colorful brothel room of Paharganj.That was when she played a very contemporary Chandramukhi in Anurag Kayshaps’ own version of Devdas, called Dev.D. The film was a hit, both in India and worldwide. However Kalki Koechlin chose not to stick to roles where she would always play the lost white girl. “After Dev.D everyone was offering me roles of prostitutes!” she laughs.

In The girl with the yellow boots, a sensitive film with strong aesthetics and narrative, she again chose a lost character. “It was a very different film, very personal, that I wrote also for him [Anurag Kayshap, the director and her now husband]. It was interesting to use my experience of how white women can be seen and treated in India” she explains. Kalki is not in a hurry to make it “big” at any cost.

A dramatist by training – she did a course in Goldsmiths, University of London before moving back to India in 2007- she always had an inclination towards theatre and experimental movies. “Maybe it comes from my French upbringing. I loved art cinema and classic theatre since I was a child” points out the actress who was born and brought up in South India.

Indeed she seems a bit of an alien in the Bollywood scene. She is friendly and casual, with no air or attitude, welcomes you with a warm smile and a flawless refreshing face. As an actor, Kalki plans carefully the movies she would be involved in. She writes, mainly plays, and keeps up with her theatrical involvement. “Theatre gives me energy and helps me a lot in my work as an actor”.

Indeed she is part of two plays touring in India right now, with different production companies this year.“I was introduced to theatre with Ariane Mouchkine or Jean-Claude Carrière and to cinema with Les Enfants du Paradis, by Marcel Carné. Actaully that is the movie that made me choose theatre as a career”. But France stops here for Kalki. Although both her parents are French she seldom visits France and never worked there. “I don’t feel French in France but I feel French in India when I cook quiches for my friends” she laughs.

Her best tagline for people asking her what she is, would be “I am white in the outside, brown in the inside” !  Lately the actress was invited to the Forum d’Avignon to give a speech on intellectual property. “I never talked in public in France, I was so scared” she recalls. Back to Mumbai she meets with new challenges. Movies such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (with Fahran Akhtar, Katrina Kaif and Hritik Roshan) got released and new projects are piling up for 2012, including  My Friend Pinto and Shanghai. It looks like Maximum city works for her, but she is not that happy with the city itself. “I love Mumbai for the people. Here everyone has come with ideas, dreams and projects. But the city makes me claustrophobic”. A hard shift for an Ooty girl. “Maybe I will try to work something with France too.” In the meantime dear Kalki, you are welcome in our own little France in Alliance Française de Bombay.


Did you know?

Her ancestor, Maurice Koechlin, designed the Eiffel tower and sold the drawings to a certain M.Eiffel later.

The Kalki Koechlin favorite intercultural list

Designer: Sabyasachi/Chanel: two very classy yet ethnic choices.
Movies: Les Enfants du Paradis by Marcel Carné/Pyasa by Gurudutt.
Theatre : Ratan Thiam/ Robert Lepage.
Romans : Hardly any French.. except Tintin! And In Spite of the Gods, the Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce.
Bad words: Unprintable one in Hindi and a very singing “Trou du cul!” in French,: “only when I am driving in India” she admits.

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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...