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Why do we all pretend we are perfect, asks Kalki Koechlin

The actress, whose parents were divorced when she was 13, opens up on her difficult equation with her mother Francoise Armandie. Her next film Mantra is about a dysfunctional family.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

There is no mantra for success in life, so why single out cinema, which is a constant struggle? The struggle is greater if you are an unconventional artiste. Kalki Koechlin is a respected actress who has tasted some measure of success in commercial cinema but is largely a product of independent cinema. She will soon be seen in unheralded independent filmmaker Nicholas Kharkongor's film Mantra, which was screened at the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image) festival last year. After a long struggle of its own, Mantra is set to be released on 17 March.

In a brief chat with Cinestaan.com, Koechlin spoke about the film, her relationship with her mother, and why she is fascinated by Marathi cinema, among other things. Excerpts from the conversation:

Looking at the trailer of Mantra, one thing intriguing about the film is the name of the director. As one born to French parents, you are perhaps well placed to tell us about him.

(Laughs) I think he should change his name if he becomes famous. Maybe he should just keep it short, like Nick or Nikko. He is from Meghalaya, but he has been based in Delhi most of his life, which is why the film is based in Delhi.

Did you know him before this film?

I was introduced to him by Rajat Kapoor. They had been in touch for a long time. Rajat told me that it’s a good script and I should read it. I liked the script and so that’s how I then met Nicholas.

Mantra was shot in 2015 and it has taken two years for it to be released. Why the delay?

We went on the floors in January 2015. It takes a long time to edit a film. This film especially required a lot of changes at the edit table. I think the final edit was completed in June 2016. We showcased the film first at the festivals. We did struggle in terms of budgets. At one point we needed crowd funding for the edit of the film. This has been a fight that Nicholas has faced from the beginning. I was shooting for Happy Ending (2014) when Nicholas approached me for Mantra. I gave my nod and asked him when we would begin, but all he said was that it would take time. I reckon he knew it was going to be a struggle to find the money.

The trailer suggests the film is about a dysfunctional family. Indian audiences may find a dysfunctional family disturbing to look at. Your thoughts?

Everyone has a dysfunctional family. I don’t understand why we pretend that we are all perfect. We do fight with members in our family. Then we have uncles, aunties etc fighting over property. I think everyone can relate to this. I found [the subject] fascinating and very relatable. I can perfectly understand this girl Piya Kapoor [her character], what this girl is going through.

I guess you can relate to the film considering you had a difficult childhood as your parents separated when you were young.

Yes, I was 13 when my parents got divorced. However, I don’t  think it matters even if your parents remained together. The dysfunction happens because we represent a different generation, we have different aspirations, you want your independence as a teenager. You go through a phase when you just want to get away from your parents. But then you come back around, as you have to look after them when they get old. There are so many things that take place within a family.

How did you handle the setback of your parents' divorce when you were young?

Perhaps you should ask my mother. I think I was a beautiful, angelic child. But I am sure my mother would not have the same story. I guess I express myself a lot through writing. I did have a difficult relationship with my mother. Father had left and so when mother and daughter are bumping into each other often, it gets tough. We did have our big fights, where I would leave the house, spend the night at a friend’s place. I guess I didn’t do anything that radical except moving to London for studies. That was freedom as I was getting out of town.

How is your relationship with your mother now?

I deal with my mother a lot better now. She is still a fiery, passionate woman. Maybe I have imbibed those traits. However, now I have learnt to deal with it with a sense of humour. We pull each other’s leg a lot. We still fight, but now we know how to dissipate the fight with jokes.

Can you talk about your experience while shooting for this film?

It was tough because we were shooting in Delhi during winter. In one scene, I had to shoot in a tiny dress when it was raining. I got really sick. The whole film was shot in about 30 days; I shot for about 15 days. I got a chance to work with Adil Hussain, Rajat Kapoor. My younger brother is played by this kid called Rohan Joshi. I think he is a great discovery in this film. I have worked with Shiv Pandit in Shaitan (2011). So, it has been a good cast to work with.

You are more comfortable with the English language but, sadly, Bollywood largely caters to a Hindi-speaking audience. Mantra is an English film. Don’t you think English films constitute a niche within a niche?

Not just English, Tamil, Marathi cinema are niche. Tamil cinema does have its own audience, but you don’t get too many Tamil films releasing in Mumbai. Yes, one does have to make an effort to watch those films. I personally love Marathi cinema. I think it is going way beyond Hindi cinema. Regional films will have isolated screenings, which may not be near your house, but I do watch films like Court (2015) and Sairat (2016) because it is inspiring cinema. However, it is up to people to decide what really they want.

Having begun your career with Dev.D (2009) you flirted with commercial cinema with films likes Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Happy Ending (2014), but have you now gone back to independent cinema?

It is not my choice. I would love to do commercial cinema. But I’m not getting offered anything.

Do you wonder why after being part of a big hit like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani you still don’t receive those offers?

No. I think it is normal to go through ups and downs in your career. I have never been a huge celebrity. I have merely considered myself an actor. As long as I am doing acting in my career, it is fine.

Is it an advantage for unconventional artistes like you that you never get dragged into a rat race? There aren’t much expectations.

Oh, believe me, there are the pressures of paying your rent. I love my job. I am lucky enough that I get to do what I love, and get paid for it. So, I can’t complain.

It is said that you haven’t charged anything for this film. Is that true?

Sssshhh! Don’t tell anyone. I charged crores. On a serious note, I purely did the film for it is a good script. There are times in your life when you do things for money, then there are times where you do things free.

You have done a documentary with Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar. What’s the status on Azmaish – Trials Of Life?

I don’t know whether it would get a release in India or Pakistan. The film will get released in Germany as it had received some funding from there. It will be screened at a festival in London in March. Besides, I'm going to be talking about the film at the India Today conclave. I guess we will have to depend upon the internet for such things. Internet doesn’t have borders.

And what about the girl-bonding film with Richa Chadda, Jia Aur Jia?

I’m tired of waiting for Jia Aur Jia. I don’t know, it has been three years since [the producers] said the film will get released. Both Richa Chadda and I merely have a laugh over it. It will be great if it comes out, for we will look so much younger. I feel bad for the director or producer because they live that film. Till that film releases there is no closure [for them].