Elle Mentors

Kalki Koechlin: "There are times I feel I’m not pretty enough, or young enough"

The actress spills on dealing with pressure to be conventionally pretty

Contrary to popular belief, Kalki Koechlin doesn’t go around thinking ‘hmm, how can I be more feminist today?” Shocking, we know, especially when you look at her filmography and choice of roles that are far away from the norm and are quietly, markedly, feminist. “It’s just a natural tendency to choose roles that are to my sensibilities and I’ve grown up in an environment where things have been very different, whether it’s about equality or discovering something new,” Kalki says.

In an industry where conforming to a certain standard of beauty is imperative, this actor has made a brand out of being an outlier. Whether it's playing the role of a young woman with cerebral palsy (in Margarita, with a Straw) or a political activist (in Shanghai), she has resisted the overtly glossy representation her contemporaries prefer on-screen. “For me, as an actor, the idea is to transform yourself. To put yourself in shoes and roles that are outside of yourself. So it would defeat the purpose if I looked the same in everything. It’s a huge part of acting, for me, to be able to transform physically,” explains Kalki.

But even this outlook doesn’t spare her from the pressure to conform, often being typecast as the go-to ‘indie’ girl. Her only solution is to drown out the noise and work. “There are many times I feel I’m not pretty enough, or young enough. The only way to get beyond that is to let your work speak for itself. Enjoy what you do," Kalki advises, adding. "The choices you make are your own, take responsibility for them and keep doing the things that make you happy and a better person. I think that is really the only solution to combat the pressure to conform to certain requirements that are sometimes very unrealistic,” she says, adding that this is the same thing she tells herself when faced with faceless internet trolls who have an opinion on everything from her relationships to her movie roles.

According to the outspoken star, she’s been lucky to make her own decisions without opposition from her family once she'd grown up. It's a privilege, she acknowledges, that not many Indian girls enjoy, especially when it comes to taking up careers in film and theatre. To pursue a career in creative arts or other offbeat professions is discouraged at the grassroot level, like in schools. “The arts are important and they’ve been ignored a lot, especially in our country where the value of arts is definitely not as much as being a doctor or an engineer."