Kalki Koechlin
Kalki Koechlin

The current Bollywood space is undergoing a very strange phase. On one hand there are brilliant films making it big and yet, there’s a trailer of Action Jackson, Tevar and even a Lingaa breathing heavy enough to silent the smaller, better films around them. Is it wrong? Well, I understand the phase best in the words of American Film Critic Roger Ebert, who once said, “No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out!” And yet, there are actresses who walk in with their infectious optimism that they will make you believe that sensible cinema can give commercial crass a run for their money, if adapted with brains.

Associated with one such film, Kalki Koechilin who will soon be seen in Happy Ending alongside Saif Ali Khan, Govinda and Ileana DCruz, is excited that her upcoming film isn’t a mellow take on romantic comedies but does its wicked take in a funny way. In an exclusive interview with Koimoi, Kalki spoke about the connection between her funny bone and her theater background, her aversion to ‘item’ numbers and her preparation for Shonali Bose’s Margarita With A Straw.

You have been associated with quintessential sensible cinema. Be it Shanghai or a Happy Ending, they all have a distinctly different look to them. What made you make a go for Happy Ending?
Raj and DK are quite intelligent writers. They have got a very commercial idea and have included many layers and sub-text to the film. I really liked that and hence decided to do it. Saif is very witty, has a great understanding of comedy. My comic sense is something even I am not very aware of. I think Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is one of the very few comic works as such. I find comedy a challenge. You have to be spontaneous. One cannot prepare for comedy. It has just to hit you instantly. You have to be alert and on your toes. I find it difficult but I enjoy it thoroughly. For instance, both Govinda and Saif, have this deadpan, straight-face humor both in the film as well as in real life. In a few scenes, Govinda is impeccable. Though I did not have scenes with him, but it was fun to meet him during promotions. Have you seen his dance? It’s so great only because of these little nuances, the fine tuning he adds to what’s given to him.

Where do you acquire your comic timing for? You are mostly associated with pretty serious films.
I am still into theater. The thing about doing theater is that it keeps me sharper. Also, yes a lot of the situation-al humor I have used in this film, I have learnt from theater. I wasn’t aware of the fact that it can be an essential tool till I was hosting MAMI this year. I understood how good sense of humor can bail you out when you good up; there is always some joke you can make to cover it up.

You have often said humor is not your forte and yet we see you doing a darn good job at attempting it time and again, be it in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or in this film. What enthuses you for it?
I have been lucky to work with a lot of brilliant directors, be it independent or commercial films. There was Dibaker Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar, who are both starkly different from each other and yet perfectionists at their work. They work hard at rewriting, reworking. They want to get their actors together, want to spend a great deal of time rehearsing. Such interactive directors have helped me mould myself. I want to break the stereotype of being a dedicated serious actor alone. Whatever is your last image, becomes your prevailing image. It is very important for me to keep breaking that and keep surprising myself. It is easy to get comfortable with a certain kind of role that comes easily. I like it when am nervous and scared, it makes me want to work really hard.

This film has Govinda doing his fantastic dance in G Phaad Ke. Did they make you dance too?
Thankfully, I don’t have to dance in this film (laughs). Imagine, if I have to shake a leg with such brilliant dancers, how many months would I have to toil? I have been often asked if I will do an item number. I will firstly take 6 months to be a solo dancer in any song and even if I survive that, I have a massive problem with that word ‘item’. It sounds derogatory, like a girl is nothing more than a maal or an item. I will do a song number if it is done tastefully with enough class. But I have a rhythm problem, so it will take me months to learn any dance number.

What’s your character in the film? Is it anything like you are in real life?
I am not really romancing Saif. We are already girl-friend and boy-friend in the film. We are from different worlds and we discover that. Vishakha, my character, is an ABCD – American Born Confused Desi. She is a complete opposite of what I am in real life, an Indian Born Confused Frenchie! So yes I had to work on my accent because I am staying there in USA. She is an intelligent dentist and an independent girl but she is also controlling and whacky. She knows she is losing her man and she doesn’t want to lose Saif and always finds a way to come back at him. Saif is this lazy bum, a egotistical writer. There is a lot of humor but their relationship is vital to what the story seeks to say. But finally when they part ways, they both learn something from each other. They both criticize each other in positive way and they understand why they are not made for each other.

You made a jibe at Aashiqui 2 at Happy Ending’s Music Launch. Do you grasp better the film’s light hearted approach towards heartbreak and relationships?
The characters in the film take themselves very seriously. But when we look at tragedy from the other perspective, it can very funny. Think of tackling a friend’s breakup. One often wonders, why is she/he being such a drama queen, stuffing herself with chocolates and food to feel better. It is funny to watch someone going through break up but you can’t laugh at that time. So you keep quiet and just be with them. It is kind of similar thing. And life is not just about tragedy, it is a mix of comedy and tragedy! I think Bollywood has indeed come past the regular rona-dhona in films. This film achieves what it has set out for. It is so self aware of making a Bollywood comedy. We are making a typical Bollywood rom-com and we are making fun of the same. We do have a sense of humor in this country. Look at AIB. there is a great scope to delve the same into films.

Shonali Bose, recently told me how you know how to get into the skin of your character and understand the milieu of the story better than most actresses. How do you get that meticulousness in your research?
People from theater are used to being whipped. Our characterization work can go on 8 months. i don’t see it as anything extraordinary. As an actor, scripts tell us that some things require more work. A film like Margarita needs more work. Shonali delayed her film by 6 months because she approached me with the role immediately after we wrapped Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. I met Shonali’s sister Malini, who herself is a cerebral palsy patient. It was a lot of observation. I lived with Malini, met her speech therapist, her physiotherapist. We did a bunch of things together – from watching movies with her or following her to work. I started living the character as much as possible. To feel the character was important because in our country the lack of infrastructure doesn’t allow, which naturally makes the patient dependent on every being around her. This film required a little more work because you have the responsibility of rightly representing, in the most authentic way possible a whole of people who suffer from cerebral palsy. You have to do justice to that.

Margarita With A Straw isn’t just about a victim of Cerebral Palsy. It’s also about her sexual awakening. Do you feel that the audiences in India are ripe enough to understand it well?
We are so patronizing towards our audience. I think if not anywhere else, atleast in the metropolitan cities, where people have access to Master of Sex, Game of Thrones. It is not like we are not exposed to it. But if I go to cinema on a Saturday and say a big Blockbuster like Happy New Year or Bang Bang is shown in 7 screens, what does a viewer do. He is left with no option but to go watch a Bang Bang or Happy New Year. Because there is nothing else showing. I do want to watch a mindless Godzilla and at other times I want a thought provoking film. I am born and brought up here, if I am interested in such films, why won’t the others be.

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