Kalki Koechlin
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Kalki Koechlin: I've become more impatient..

Kalki Koechlin

By HT

Mumbai, Nov. 20 -- This is not her first tryst with death. Kalki Koechlin's award-winning play - her first as a writer - The Skeleton Woman, too, revolved around the mysteries of life, death and rebirth.

Seven years on, she now dons the director's hat for the first time with her drama, The Living Room. It stars Neil Bhoopalam, Jim Sarbh, Sheeba Chaddha and Tariq Vasudeva, and revisits the morbid topic of death, but with a heavy coating of comedy. After a preview of the play, we caught up with the actor-turned-director at a popular cultural venue in the city to talk about the challenges of direction, helming films, and more.

When did you start working on the play?

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, I wrote a two-page scene about an old woman and death. Then I left it, and forgot about it. Six months later, I found it in my notebook. At that time, I was unemployed. I was going through a divorce, and wondering what I should do. So, I started writing again. I finished the first draft, and read it to a few of my friends to get an idea on whether it worked. Then I approached all the actors I wanted in my play, and surprisingly, all of them said yes. The rehearsals started in May this year.

How would you describe yourself as a director?

Since the first rehearsal till date, I think I have become more impatient. In the beginning, when the actors would not take the rehearsals seriously, I would only look at them with disappointment. But now, I end up screaming at them more often (laughs).

Would you ever act in a play you direct?

When I get really overconfident, I will (laughs).

Now that you have some experience with direction, would you want to try your hand at making films?

I don't have that kind of spare money in my pocket. I don't even have a house to sell or much hair to lose (laughs). On a serious note, I don't think I have the technical knowledge. I don't understand cameras, and cinema is such a visual medium. Theatre is still an actor's medium.

Why did you choose a topic like death for your directorial debut (which will be staged on November 29 at NCPA)?

Actually, my first play as a writer, The Skeleton Woman, was also about love and death. I guess death is the most obvious thing about life. It's because of death that we feel the presence of life.

You have worked with Neil Bhoopalam on multiple projects before this. How was the experience of directing him?

It was good fun. There's always a funny line between friendship and becoming the boss. So, there were times when we would take advantage of each other. For instance, since he is a friend, he could get away with coming late for the rehearsal. And, at the same time, I could tell him stuff more honestly; take him aside and say, "Dude, you are not concentrating." It's about a fine balance, where, at some point, you have to be like, "I am also your boss, though I look like a little child."

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a director?

I generally don't work so hard. So little pay, and so much to do (laughs). Not only are you directing the actors, but you are also writing, sitting with your music composer and your light person, taking care of the production needs, and are involved with the designing, etc.

You have worked with multiple directors in the past, including Rajat Kapoor and Manav Kaul. What kind of impression did each one of them leave on you?

Rajat was a big help. One of the things he said to me was, "If you have the time to explore, explore as much as you can till the last minute, because you can always fall back on the script." That stayed with me. With Manav, I wrote Colour Blind. Writing and rewriting the script with him was an essential lesson.