Kalki Koechlin has always been known for her out-of-the-box character portrayals in a number of films. As an unconventional actress, she has received much praise for her performances, never really conforming to a certain genre. Koechlin’s latest offering is titled ‘Margarita With a Straw’ which saw a red carpet reception in London today for the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival 2014. As she was in the capital for the film, in which she plays a wheelchair-bound woman called Laila who has Cerebral Palsy, BizAsia was able to catch up with her about the film.
‘Margarita With a Straw’ is written, directed and co-produced by Shonali Bose and is a story based on her cousin, Malini. The film’s premiere was earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014, in which it was marked under the category of Contemporary World Cinema.
How do you feel being in London?
I�۪m really happy to be in London because I have a lot of memories in this city.�� I went to university here.�� I studied here so it�۪s nice to come back and catch up with friends and have them watch my film.
��Margarita with a Straw�۪����belongs to a genre that you�۪re known for.�� It�۪s an off-beat film and your role as Laila has a lot of dimensions to it. ��What drew you to the role?
It was just such an original script.�� I knew it is a once in a lifetime chance to do something like this.�� Firstly, a female protagonist in a wheelchair is hard to come by.�� It�۪s a big challenge and it was scary at first.�� I wasn�۪t sure if I could pull it off and I felt the pressure of getting the cerebral palsy, the disability, right.�� So there was a lot of stress, a lot of work to do, six month of prep but it was also something I knew would really help me grow as a person as well as an actor.
What would you say was the most difficult thing about the role that you played?
Getting the physicality was very, very difficult because no person with cerebral palsy has the same thing.�� It�۪s different for each person, so where do you choose what you make this character like.�� Do you make the character exactly like someone who has cerebral palsy or do you create it.�� We created it. ��Me and Shonali (Bose) created it based on Malini, her cousin, but also based on what we needed for the script.�� We needed her to be understandable, the speech had to be understandable enough for the audience.�� The physicality took a lot of practice.�� I spent a lot of time in a wheelchair; I spent a lot of time with a physiotherapist and speech therapist.�� There was a lot of work there.
This film has been premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in the ��Contemporary World Cinema�۪ category.�� How do you think the film represents the contemporary world cinema genre?
Well, we don�۪t see a lot of films tackling disabilities and sexuality.�� I think in that sense it�۪s something that we are aware of in the back of our heads but we�۪re not really conscious of it in our daily lives, unless you world with somebody who has cerebral palsy or who is disabled.�� For me, it�۪s an eye-opener because we don�۪t see it.�� It�۪s not on our television screens, it�۪s not something we discuss.�� It�۪s important because it breaks our stereotypes of how we approach people who have disabilities.�� We think that they have less fun: they don�۪t drink, they don�۪t have sex, which is obviously not the case.�� So, it is in that sense very much today�۪s film.
I can understand that it probably does widen the perspective on disability.�� The film is coming to the London Film Festival after the Toronto Film Festival.�� The festival audience would be different to your average cinema-goer.�� What do you think will appeal to the festival audience that perhaps may not strike a chord with the regular cinema-goer?
A film festival is for cinema buffs, people who really love cinema so they�۪re used to watching path-breaking stuff, films which are independent and slightly off-beat.�� So they will accept a lot more things.�� As for a normal cinema going audience, it depends.�� Some fans want to be entertained.�� It depends on where you�۪re releasing, it depends on whether it�۪s released as a commercial film or a niche film.�� I think there is a niche audience for this bit obviously it�۪s not a commercial, blockbuster kind of film.
You mentioned Shonali before.�� Shonali Bose is the director and the writer of ��Margarita with a Straw�۪ and she�۪s also co-produced it.�� What was your experience working with her?
It was fantastic.�� Shonali is quite a task master.�� She really disciplined me, she made me work a lot and necessarily so as I really needed to for this film.�� Many times she�۪d be like a mother figure and she�۪d be like, ��no you cannot go out, no fun on this set, you have to be working hard�۪.�� She�۪s also somebody who is very personal and that comes out in her films.�� She�۪s an open book, she talks about her own personal life a lot and in that sense it really helped me understand the character because the character is a reflection of her own life.�� It was important for me to have that open relationship with her to understand the character.
It�۪s a film that has a New York backdrop.�� How important do you think that was for the film to have?
It�۪s important to me because you really see the difference in Laila when she�۪s in New York.�� Simply because of the idea of independence and access that we have in New York, compared to India where we still don�۪t have basic access in public spaces and you�۪re constantly dependent on several people: carers or family, to take you everywhere.�� In that sense you never really grow up and become independent (in India), whereas when she goes to New York she experiences that and it�۪s liberating for her to do things on her own.�� Symbolically, there�۪s a scene where she makes a fried egg without breaking the yolk and it takes her a whole carton of eggs to do it.�� That sense of pride that she gets from doing something like that, just because there�۪s nobody else to do it, is really beautiful.�� That�۪s also why it was important that the film takes place in New York.�� In Delhi, it�۪s always the interiors: she�۪s stuck inside, stuck at home.�� That opens up in New York, we see the outside world.
What did you learn most about yourself in this portrayal?
I learnt how deeply I can get into something.�� For me, it became really important to get this right and I spent a lot more time with Malini even after the film was done.�� Malini has become a friend of mine now.�� It�۪s opened up my mind about these issues.�� I hope I�۪ve grown as a person.
I understand that this film is meant to get a wider release in India next year, is that true?
That�۪s right, in February.
Koechlin’s performance has been written about as path-breaking and one can only hope that the national release of the film next year only goes to reflect that. BizAsia thanks Koechlin for talking to us and wish her and the team well with the film.