Kalki Koechlin: The Human Canvas
A magazine becomes the platform for a supreme act of collaboration and curation, bringing together a visual feast, a spectacle of extraordinary thoughts. Twenty years ago, when Verve was launched, an iconic black-and-white image of model Melody DeCunha Pires became the face of its first issue. Today, poised to look at the future, we question the face of the contemporary woman. She’s hybrid in one or more ways – in thought, lineage, experiences and in the lifestyle she consumes. She is also the amalgamation of varied elements – popular culture, heritage, history, social thought….
Kalki Koechlin, a Frenchwoman born and brought up in India, becomes the live canvas for experimentation. Slow-process multimedia artist Riyas Komu is inspired by Kalki’s persona. “She represents a sense of eclecticism, she is very cosmopolitan. There are many layers to her.” Photographer and visual artist Jatin Kampani is always prepared to push the envelope, with spirit and inquiry. “Artists’ collaborations are fascinating because we tend to feed off each other’s imaginations, much like musicians jamming together to create new music.” Together, the two spent extensive hours conceptualising – but not concluding – what could be on the cover of Verve’s 20th-anniversary issue.
And that’s the idea. Creativity cannot be controlled, it cannot be determined. The best art flows from what we don’t know that we know. From the recesses of our subconscious mind, we extract fragments that when put together form a meaningful whole. The world as we know it today represents a free exchange of thoughts and ideas that lead to a greater discovery. An idea contained is an idea lost. And an idea shared explodes in kaleidoscopic ways, each fragment entwined in individual perception, leading to further acts of creation.
As an artistic battalion arrived at the cover shoot, no one knew or planned what the end result would be. A videographer silently documented the process of ‘construction’ – of amalgamated forces with purposeful intent. From a ‘cerebral’ juxtaposition of Riyas’ skull sculpture with Kalki’s face, to his portraits on polyester fabric enveloping her body, ideas flowed freely at this path-breaking cover shoot. The moments pulsated with creative energy and meshing of concepts…we merely documented the artistic process. And in the true spirit of collaboration, the construct displayed a pure celebration of thinking.
“‘Regular’ creates monotony. Anything hybrid means two different spheres coming together to create something of significance.”
-Jatin Kampani, Photographer
“The whole collaboration was a celebration of the daily life of the ordinary person…a humble juxtaposition of the clothes, attitude and concerns….”
-Riyas Komu, Multimedia Artist
“We are a diverse country where we are all wrapped up together and cannot be separated. We’re all stuck in this with each other.”
-Kalki Koechlin, Actress and Muse
Walking into the busy environs of the suburban studio, Kalki Koechlin is looking forward to Verve’s cover shoot that is going to be a work in progress. She says, “That is nice, as it challenges my creative instincts.” And challenges — and change — are nothing new to the French-born, Indian-bred Koechlin. Excerpts from the chat with the actress:
“Change has been the essence of my existence.”
“I’ve always had to adapt to situations. Living in a small fishing village in South India, I played cricket in the lanes with all the kids, but I would often go to meet my grandparents in France. I had to switch to French from Tamil. Then I had to go to a boarding school, which was very British and posh, and they found my accent very funny; so I became another person. And today, as an actor, I am constantly adapting — reacting to situations.”
“I enjoy new challenges.”
“I’ve been very lucky with the kind of directors I’ve worked with — not in terms of getting to the top, but in terms of the diversity of work that I have done, going from a Zoya Akhtar to a Dibakar Banerjee. And, then there is theatre. I’ve gone from clowning to very realistic work and all of it has made me grow. I love becoming something else, something unexpected.”
“Several elements have made up my universe.”
“I grew up in a house with no religion, but I went to a very Christian school. Then there were the several languages that appeared in my life, while academically, I learnt in English. What kept me ‘together’? I think it was expression. From a young age, I’ve always found ways to let my contradictions out. Whether on paper (I used to write) or through the several little things I put up. I used to be quite a performer. Like a clown, I would always make jokes about people and things that came my way and translate them into something else, rather than hold on to them inside me.”
“I found the middle ground.”
“My rebellious side comes from a very strong mother who is quite full of anger — she is always fighting about something, debating, arguing, constantly having something unhappy to talk about. That aspect has been very French and has been a part of my upbringing. I constantly question things to understand why they’ve become what they are. And there is the Indian side in me — which accepts without questioning. With age and maturity I learnt that it is one thing to rebel and it’s another thing to understand the other side and also want to be accepted by that side.”
“Nobody is pure.”
“Everyone needs to tap into things that make them different. That is what gives the edge to your work for everyone is made up of so many elements. At a recent literary festival, we were discussing what it is to be Indian. We are such a hybrid mix, no one is pure — and yet no one is really inauthentic.“
“I love being able to switch.”
“Asking me to choose between commercial and offbeat cinema and between the movies and theatre is like asking me to choose between my mother and father. I learnt how to become a commercial Bollywood actress and made situations and emotions here real. Then I switched on a different sensibility and made offbeat cinema real too! In theatre, every show is different. And that spontaneity, the ability to be alive in the moment, is fantastic for an actor.”
“People try to pigeonhole me.”
“Everyone tries to put labels on others. But, though it is nice to have a pigeonhole to come back to, I keep flying out to explore the trees and then I return to the nest. I am goofy but I am not the intellectual that people make me out to be. I am extremely emotionally sensitive. I react to things, first from the heart, and then I analyse them.”
“Being hybrid is all about change.”
“History is constantly evolving. The way we speak, the way we dress, even religion evolves. That is what hybridness is about — an exchange and intermingling, taking things from each other and making it richer.”