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Kalki Koechlin: I have always had to explain myself how I could be so ‘foreign’ in my skin colour

Kalki Koechlin has emerged as a steady voice from Bollywood that promoted the cause of gender equality and ​discrimination. We open our Women’s Achievers Diary with this strong persona who ironically faced racial discrimination for her ‘white’ skin in childhood. By Navneet Mendiratta 

Kalki Koechlin

Kalki Koechlin/Riva Bubber

She has broken the mould to take up unconventional roles on screen, never shies away from voicing her opinion on social issues and wholeheartedly supports campaigns that discuss gender discrimination. Kalki Koechlin comes from that new generation of actors who are independent and wish to be the change that they want to see in the society.

This fiercely independent persona of Kalki is what makes her the opener of our Women’s Achievers Diary. We catch her amidst her busy schedule – between planning promotional activity for her upcoming film, Mantra; lending her voice for the new #UnitedByHalf campaign launched by United Colors of Benetton where she stands up for equal rights and building up suspense for her short film, Naked, that releases today in which she addresses the “side effects” of being active on social media, of being trolled and vilified.

As we open our conversation, Kalki minces no words to share that we really are living in a very intolerant society. No, we are not discussing religion here, nah! It is how we raise the gender. Irrespective of how educated or cosmopolitan we may be.

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Kalki Koechlin

Riva Bubber

Kalki, herself, has been a subject of racial discrimination at a very young age. “The thing of being born in India with French parents has been both good and bad,” she laughs. “On one hand, I have always had to explain myself how I could be so ‘foreign’ in my skin colour and yet come out so native who could speak fluent Tamil and eat her rice and rasam with local flourish. I held them in amazement.”

She may be able to laugh at what it was like then, but at that point, it certainly was not easy. “It was always about breaking that first barrier to gain acceptance – be it at school, of friends or their parents. The other side is that because I was able to shift worlds — speaking Tamil with my friends, English at school and French with my parents – it gave me a sense of freedom to be able to do anything. And that has affected me as an actor – of being able to jump into different roles.”

The proof of this has been the kind of roles Kalki has taken up and portrayed on the silver screen. She is modest to attribute a part of her success to her colleagues and directors.  “I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to work with amazing people, especially directors who always brought out the best out of me rather than try and mould me into something conventional,” she says.

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Kalki Koechlin: Women Achievers Diary

Ravi Bubber

“And now I am in a position where I am comfortable enough to choose my medium to express myself in different ways, to work in either very commercial or independent roles. No matter what form I use, whether it is Bollywood or independent film, I have to find a human quality in that character. I have to find authenticity which makes me resonate with the character,” she adds.

As she opens up to her experiments in films, you cannot leave her love for theatre out. “Just as people need to go to gym to make their body fit, I need to go to theatre to make my acting muscles work!” she laughs. And then she quickly sobers up to share how these are two very different mediums. “It is about going out of your comfort zone to do something new. What we need in theatre today is not adaptations but very good meaningful cause that we want to talk about and express visually.”

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At this point, I am reminded of her bold stance on feminism and commitment towards women’s rights and gender equality in her theatrical monologue titled “wo-manologue” that was showcased last year. And I veer her towards issues she has consistently brought to fore and champions for.

“There is definitely a lot lacking in our education system. From a young age, we don’t bring up our boys and girls in the same way. Whether that is in our school or curriculum or parenting, girls are treated differently than the boys. They grow up believing the same and end up repeating the parenting and hence, the traditional bias,” she says. Her voice grows stronger and grim as she touches upon the topic of sex education and how we need to address it seriously. Respect, she is firm to point out must be taught to boys by their mothers and from a young age. Only then can the perspectives change.

“I also feel that we can use social media to talk out aloud about issues that affect us,” she interjects, focusing on the boon rather bane of the medium. “I really feel it is important to voice out your opinions and write it out. That is the only way we can bring out certain issues that lurk in the darkness and face the threat of being a taboo.”

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Kalki Koechlin

Ravi Bubber

She is also quick to point out the abuse of the medium and how it is double edged sword that must be handled with care. “I have also struggled with the social media and that has made shaped what I say on the medium and how much I share. Most important, what has happened with time is that I have become silent to returning messages or trolls because I realise that these people have nothing to lose and they are hiding behind their screens.”

So, how does she handle her trolls? “Humour, for me, has helped a lot in handling situations. It’s great to have my freedom as I am directly connected to people,” she quips. Now that is a sensible advice. Hope we have more such strong, balanced women as our role models. Born of Web salutes her spirit.

This interview is part of Born of Web’s exclusive interactive series, Women Achievers’ Diary, in association with Tantra by Ratna Jain. Know more about the series here! 

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Former editor of MetroNow, Exotica magazine and a journalist for over two decades, Navneet Mendiratta has vacillated between handling news and writing on art and lifestyle fulltime with leading publications which include The Times of India, The Indian Express, Business Standard and The Pioneer. A traveler, amateur photographer and instinctive writer, she now finds herself at home in creative spaces. She is currently heading a website

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