At the first look you notice her unconventional looks. At the second look you notice her striking beauty. At the third look you notice that incredibly intelligent and dedicated artist behind the face. That is Kalki Koechlin for you. She hails from the world of theatre and is debuting in Anurag Kashyap’s modern day version of Devdas, Dev.D alongside Abhay Deol and newcomer Mahi Gill. She has been given the opportunity of a lifetime to play one of the most incredible ladies in Indian literature, Chandramukhi, in a never before seen avatar. BollySpice brings you this talented newcomer exclusively in an enlightening interview about her expectations from her debut film, films in general, her career and much more.
How were you approached for your role?
I got a call from UTV Spotboy for an audition. They were happy with my acting and my look, but I got called back several times. The main test they wanted me to pass was my competence in Hindi.
An adaptation of Devdas, or any story of that era, in a modern setting is a very unique concept to Indian cinema so what was your reaction upon hearing the script? Were you apprehensive at all?
When I read the script, I was very excited to see a story that was contemporary and very real. It brought out the clash between the traditional and the modern that any young person in India will identify with. I am never apprehensive about a role if it is done sincerely and honestly.
Your character Chanda aka Chandramukhi has been previously played by two very legendry actresses of Indian cinema, Madhuri Dixit and Vvjayantimala, what are your thoughts if you’re compared to any of these two actresses when audiences view the film? Are you comfortable with the comparisons that may come your way despite being a newcomer?
Well it is daunting but also flattering to be compared to Madhuri Dixit, one of the most iconic and sexy women India has known. Of course, the character I play contains a level of sexuality and glamour that will perhaps make people compare Chanda to the Chandramukhis of the past. I am prepared for that. At the same time, Chanda has a few surprises in Dev.D that aught to make me stand out from the others. Let’s see…
Were you influenced by earlier versions of Devdas at all when playing your character? Have you seen the earlier versions?
I have seen the SLB version of Devdas, and at a superficial level I was influenced by the flamboyance and glamour of Chandramukhi, but the modern adaptation of Dev.D takes my role into a more realistic zone also. When Chanda is not with her customers, she has a very different life, toned down with no make up and no costumes and dealing with real situations.
We recently spoke to your co-star from the film, Abhay Deol, who informed us that the film despite being a modernized version of the storyline remains very true to actual book, have you read the book?
I have unfortunately not read the book. In fact, I was also told to avoid watching any Devdas versions before the shoot, as they wanted my role to be original and different from past ones. My preparation came from watching movies, lots of movies that Anurag Kashyap gave me such as Gia, B Monkey, Requiem for a Dream, Mi Tresor.
Devdas of course has two leading ladies, how do you think you would have faired in the role of Paro given the opportunity?
Paro’s role is one of a rustic, Punjabi girl with lots of attitude. I don’t think my looks would have suited that at all. I think Mahi Gill and I were cast very appropriately in our respective roles.
What was your first day on the sets like? Which scene did you face the camera for on that day?
My first day was nerve wracking because it began by watching Abhay and Mahi acting. They were both very spontaneous and natural and suddenly I thought ‘Oh wow these guys can really act, aghhhh!’ My scene was one where I was sitting reading ‘Contempt’ while my Dadi starts to criticize me. I guess once the camera starts rolling, you stop worrying about what other people think. You just have so much to concentrate on, and that’s just what I did.
What prompted the change from theatre to films? Do you think you experience in theatre has enhanced your performance in the film?
It was not so much a conscious decision. I want to act, I’ve always wanted to do film and I will continue to do theatre. Being from a theatre background was good because I had a grasp on the craft. I was comfortable with emoting, with getting into a character.
How different or similar are the forms of art, theatre and cinema from the point of view of a performer?
In theatre, actors are used to projecting their voices and using grand gestures so that the last row of audience has something to watch. I had to learn to tone everything down because for a camera you act mostly with your eyes, not with your whole body. It required an immense level of control for a drama queen like me!
What are you expectations from your first film? How do you think the audiences will react to such a novel concept of filmmaking for Indian cinema?
I am very excited and I expect the film to do well because the music really carries the film through. Visually it is fantastic and the story is exciting. Of course there will be controversy regarding the interpretation of this classic love story, but I look forward to that. Controversy also means that it’s a film that makes people think.
After Dev.D what are your plans for your career? Any other films in the horizon or more theatre work?
I want to do more film work of course, but I am not in a hurry. I still have a lot to learn. Right now I am doing a play called ‘The Skeleton Woman’. I have been for a couple of auditions for films, but nothing is finalized yet. I’m not someone who can plan five years ahead, I can hardly plan a week ahead! Whatever I am doing in the present tends to be the most important thing in my life.
Which film in the recent past you’ve thoroughly enjoyed?
Oye Lucky was a film that had a perfect mix of entertainment and reality. That’s one film I really enjoyed.
An actor or actress you admire?
The actress I most admire is Juliette Binoche. She is incredibly talented, incredibly beautiful and equally honest in her work and her life. In Bollywood, it would be Preity Zinta. She is down to earth and she has character.
A director you’d like the opportunity to work with?
I would like to work with Vishal Bharadwaj. I love what he’s done in Maqbool and Omkara, and I think he really brings out good performances from his actors.
A role you’d have liked the chance to play?
I would have loved to play the role of Phoolan Devi, or Joan of Arc or Elizabeth. The role of a strong female leader gets me very excited.
BollySpice wishes Kalki all the very best for the release of Dev.D, and we look forward to seeing her bring on screen a Chandramukhi like never before! Be sure to check our Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D releasing on February the 6th at a cinema near you!