Kalki Koechlin has been busy for the past one-and-a-half years. Her daughter, Sappho, arrived in the world in February last year. In fact, it was motherhood that pushed her into another venture that too kept her occupied — a book on parenting and everything that comes with it. The graphic narrative, The Elephant in the Womb, is an extremely personal account, shares Kalki. “It’s not a study on motherhood. It’s really my journalling and my experience of it,” she says.
Writing isn’t new to her. That Girl in Yellow Boots actress has written plays such as Skeleton Woman and Living Room and the experience certainly came in handy when she was penning the book. “I enjoy writing; it’s a form of therapy for me. I like to put down my thoughts. This subject was so new and when it started, I immediately started drawing and doodling what I was feeling more than just writing,” she reveals.
Kalki feels blessed to have had this time with her baby during the lockdown. “If I wasn’t in a lockdown, I would have had to go back to work after three months and deal with this terrible thing that so many mothers feel — choosing between career and your child. I feel the band-aid being ripped off now when I go to work!” she chuckles. Sappho accompanied her mother to London when she shot for a film titled Goldfish also starring Deepti Naval, but Kalki didn’t take her for the shoot of Made in Heaven season 2 in Delhi. “It would have been hot and miserable for her to be cooped up in the hotel room. So, these are the choices I need to make,” she says.
The actress admits she has always been spontaneous when it comes to acting projects but now with a child in her life, she needs to be more organised. “I don’t know if I have to be more choosy but I am certainly more conscious of how I spend my time. I’ve had to say no to a lot of projects because I want to do things where I am sure that I am happy to be away from her,” she says, adding that she ensures she doesn’t take up back-to-back projects so she gets her time with Sappho.
For someone who has been part of films such as Margarita with a Straw and Waiting, does she feel a disconnect when she does mainstream cinema such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani? “I don’t feel a disconnect because you can still talk about different classes of people and their very real problems. I have an issue with being typecast as this slightly privileged girl because of the colour of my skin,” she says, adding that many of her actor friends go through an opposite experience, of being cast as someone from the lesser-privileged sections because of the way they look. “As actors, we are always fighting that scenario — the physical appearance we have and what that gives us in terms of roles and casting,” she states. On her part, she likes to find the human side of the characters she plays, whatever their situations are, and to make them relatable in some way.
Kalki has in the past, been vocal about how she had felt stereotyped as the white girl in India early in her career. Ask her if she feels the attitude has changed for the better and she replies, “Yes and no, in the sense that there are just far more opportunities today to do other stuff because of OTT platforms and the kind of alternate subjects that are being explored. It’s a good time for actors in that sense but I think all of us tend to be typecast according to whatever we have most recently been seen in. That struggle remains.”
To fit in, she has also received advice from well-wishers such as dying her hair black or doing an item song. “But now I have paved my way a little bit and I can choose the projects, which challenge my acting skills. Such projects are few and far between and I am lucky I have other work occupying me like the book or my podcasts. It is about choosing the right stuff and it takes time to get the right project,” she admits.
To direct or not to direct
Kalki is one of the few actors in Hindi cinema who has continued to work in theatre at a consistent pace despite acting projects in films and on OTT platforms. She has acted in several stage productions, written plays, and even made her directorial debut with the 2015 show, Living Room. “When you rehearse a play in a room with five-six people, share so much of your daily life and do it for such less money, it becomes a kind of a personal journey,” she says, adding that she misses theatre a lot and can’t wait to get back on stage once they re-open.
Although she has directed for the stage and would love to try her hand at it again, she isn’t ready to make the same commitment for films. “I don’t think I am experienced enough to direct a film. Who knows? I never know what will happen,” she laughs. The one thing she would like to do though is to attempt writing for a web series or a movie. “I think writing is more my strength. Whether I will actually want to direct it depends on how close I am to the project I have written,” she signs off.
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