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I Go Back to Theatre to Get My Acting Chops Back: Kalki Koechlin

Kalki is entering the world of audiobooks with Audible India’s ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’.

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Celebrities
5 min read
Kalki Koechlin at the launch of Audible in India.
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(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on November 15, 2018. It is being republished on the occasion of Kalki Koechlin’s birthday.)

Kalki Koechlin is having a lot of fun at work. Not only is her new play Lucrece launching at the end of this month, but the actor is also entering the audiobook space. Ahead of the launch of Amazon’s digital subsidiary Audible, Kalki Koechlin spoke to The Quint about featuring in their first production based on Hussain Zaidi’s Mafia Queens of Mumbai. She speaks about how she finds listening to audiobooks relaxing, doing plays on the side and working across mediums.

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Do you generally listen to podcasts and audio books?

Kalki Koechlin: It is actually a very new thing, it is a 2017 thing. I started podcasts actually because I also had a podcast series of my own called “My Indian Life”.  So I needed to start researching and I got into binge podcasting and stumbled upon Serial, a murder mystery of true stories and it is very addictive. And then with Audible, before I started this, I started listening some of Oscar Wilde’s poems whom I love very much. I find it very useful when you are travelling or commuting.

It actually has a very addictive quality to it and you get through things much quicker. I mean you know, you can finish a book in two days. Instead of spending a week or two, which I normally do when I read a book.

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But do you think that this is sort of a culture for us, as a sort of an extension of our grandparents and parent telling us stories?

KK: If you look at history, oral storytelling was the beginning of storytelling and then it became writing. So absolutely, it is going back in a way. And I don’t take away anything from books, I love reading myself but in a time where we are so busy, it really is the only tactic to have a way of listening to stories again. And there is something comforting and calming about it. You know, you can close your eyes and listen. You don’t need to watch it, you don’t need to see it.

But specifically this one because it is based on Hussain Zaidi’s novel Mafia Queens of Mumbai. Have you read the book?

KK: Yeah, I read it actually many years back when it released. Because Vishal Ji had recommended it to me. I loved it and I loved all the stories and I think all of them would make great scripts as well.

I think one of them was being made.

KK: Sapna Didi, which is one of my favourite stories from it actually. So I was super excited when they chose this book because it is a book I already read.

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But was it difficult to record?

KK: So we would spend about six hours recording in the studio per day and after about three hours, your tongue stops listening to you, it’s like you want it to move but you are so tired. It is a muscle. And you are not used to talking for so long. Maybe if you are a voice-over artist, but for me it was just like “ Whoaa!”. And you would have to take a lot of breaks. And there are a lot of tongue twisters in this book.

There’s a lot of complicated names like Mahalaxmi Papamani and that Mudhalyad walla guy and there are lots of names, convoluted names of people and places in Mumbai and that way it was pretty tough to get all those, but it is fun also once you get into it and start getting into different characters.

But you don’t have the visual crutches that you would get in a movie, right? Whether it’s silence or an eye movement or whatever. Most actors find those useful but you don’t?

KK: That’s true. I do love the visual medium and films and I do love all those things but at the same time, voice modulation is such a huge part of acting. And there is so much subtle voice modulation when you are reading out loud and it’s the most basic work of an actor. You use your voice constantly and it is actually great practice for an actor to read out aloud.

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But I am assuming you already have it. I mean you keep going back to theatre, after films or web series. So what does that do for you?

KK: It’s like going to the gym.

Some actors go to the gym to get a six pack, I go to the theatre to get my acting back, you know. It really just gets your muscles going again. You have to enunciate, you have to pronounce every word. You have to finish your sentence. You cannot drop at any minute, your energy has to be up.
Kalki Koechlin

So it is the same with storytelling. And if you look at good storytellers, like my dad would tell me stories as a kid and he would always animate them with these voices like “AAAHH AND NOW THE BIG BAD WOLF CAME” and you know how you would animate for children, so I think it is a really fantastic exercise for an actor to do.

Actor Kalki Koechlin.
Actor Kalki Koechlin.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

But films don’t give you that? That sort of momentum or that rigour?

KK: You don’t often get to workshop for a film. Some films you do, like I did for Margarita with a straw. But for some, you will meet your “husband” on the day of the shoot. You have this whole history and background with this person as a character, but you meet the co-actor on set and you guys are doing your most intense scene together. So you have to be on top of your own character, and know your background and know the background of the other character and then just be ready to just jump in there.

Kalki in a still from<i> Margarita With AStraw</i>
Kalki in a still from Margarita With AStraw
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)
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For a lot of actors though they say that when the camera comes on, they say they are “shameless” and ready. Like the camera acts like a confidante in a way. So does that happen for you?

KK: No, I mean for me acting is reacting and for me what the other actor gives me is so important. If someone says something, you respond. You don’t just say something for the sake of it.

I have just seen your web series Smoke and now you are doing this audiobook and a film. What is next for you?

KK: I am doing a play which opens end of November, it is called Lucrece. It is based on a true story that happened in the Roman era and is written by Shakespeare. It is a true story about a woman who has been raped by the son of the king and she spoke up about it the very next day. They were exiled and it was the end of monarchy and the beginning of Republic in Rome. And then I have Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy releasing next year and then the web series Made in Heaven for Amazon Prime.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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