Face-to-face Kalki Koechlin has a clutch of upcoming films. Will the actor cross over from her parallel path to the commercial?

Blissfully married to Anurag Kashyap, Kalki Koechlin is on a professional high with multiple releases this year. After Shaitan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the elfin actor animatedly chats about her forthcoming films — That Girl In Yellow Boots, My Friend Pinto and Shanghai.

With the success of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, you have moved to mainstream cinema. Do you intend balancing commercial and offbeat roles now?

I have never really looked at a film as commercial or offbeat. I look at whether the script is convincing and whether the director's vision appeals to me. If a filmmaker tells me that he just wants me to be ‘Kalki', I would be scared.

Have you been approached by any mainstream filmmaker?

Not yet. I am very sad (laughs). It's early days. After Dev. D too, nobody approached me for a long time. It takes time for people to think about you. I am not conventional looking. I don't look Indian. They need to see if I fit into something. Good things happen to those who wait. Right now, I am promoting That Girl In Yellow Boots and My Friend Pinto and I have just finished Shanghai. Right now, I am reading a script, which is very interesting, but I can't talk about it until I sign it.

So is the song-and-dance routine ruled out for you?

I have no aversion to doing song-and-dance, but the problem is I am not a trained dancer. So I would need to work very hard for it. I have never been approached to do a song. Because of my image people just assume that I don't want to do a dance or a song. But everything is a challenge. I have respect for those who can dance because I really can't. A dance number has to be fun and convincing, it can't be random.

Do you find the comfort level you have with Anurag Kashyap missing when you do projects by other filmmakers such as Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), Sanjay Bhansali Productions (My Friend Pinto) and Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai)?

To be honest, each one has brought me something different. I love working with Anurag; it's a very different sensibility from working with Zoya. Anurag gives you very little direction and he lets you improvise and get into the character. Zoya is very logical and that's fantastic when you don't know how to play a scene or if you are stuck with a character. Dibakar is a super-perfectionist. He takes an average of 10 takes, even if it is a two-second shot of me picking up a cup. He really tests your patience but makes you realise how detailed the film is. It is a dream for an actor to work with as many directors as possible.

For That Girl In Yellow Boots, you are also the co-writer.

Yeah, it's the first time I have written for a film. I have earlier written a play which has been published; I write for magazines and blogs. For this film, Anurag wanted a woman's perspective, but I was scared to write it at first because it was a tough and sensitive subject. I actually said ‘no', but he insisted. He said, ‘Anyway tu unemployed hain. Kuch toh karo' (laughs). So over four months, I started writing. I wrote scenes independent of one another. I didn't really write a story. Basically I built up the characters. I play Ruth, a British girl, and then there is Maya, a motor mouth receptionist always chatting on the phone. The idea was to build up these typical characters you find in the bylanes of Mumbai.

From where did you draw your references for the film?

For Ruth, there were a lot of reference points because Ruth is a white girl in India and I am a white girl. I could understand what it's like to be a white girl in the city. Men look at white girls and they think they are easy to get. I grew up in South India. The film is a mix of my experiences from South India, England and Mumbai.

Does That Girl In Yellow Boots have explicit boldness as seen in Anurag's films?

No, it's been perceived as a bold, intimate film. But actually, there is no sexual nudity in it.

You have played many dark characters. How do you differentiate them?

For me, every character is new. I have to think of them independently. In Shaitan, my character is a vulnerable rich girl who tries to be cool on the outside. Ruth, on the other hand, is completely unsociable, almost dysfunctional. The way she dresses is very odd - she doesn't try to look pretty, she tries to look tough. She never smiles - that was hard for me because I am always smiling.

What kind of preparation went in to play Ruth?

While playing Ruth, I had my headphones on listening to music which I thought would be on Ruth's playlist. It had Daft Punk, Muse and The Streets — all very grungy, heavy metal. I had my phone switched off throughout the shoot. I didn't talk to anyone, even on the sets. I would just sit in a corner and sulk. I was very different from what I am normally.

Raghav Dar's My Friend Pinto with Prateek sounds very different from anything that you have done so far.

Pinto is a comedy and all the characters are three times larger than life. It's funny and over-the-top. It is really fun for an actor to just let go and go crazy in a film. I have enjoyed it.

How do you assess your two years in Bollywood?

It's been good. I can't complain. Since I am not in a hurry to try and become the next commercial hit, I have not felt that pressure. I have really waited for things that attract me and get me excited. Of course, you make mistakes. Every time I finish my film and see myself on the screen, I kill myself because I only see my faults. I feel: ‘Oh god, I have to speak Hindi better', ‘I have to get more into the character'. But those things keep me going. If I thought I was a perfect actor and I didn't have anything new to challenge me, I would stop acting.

Bollywood News Service