At the second summit of Bombaywaali, actor Kalki Koechlin graced the stage, to speak with author Sukanya Venkatraghavan. The conversation not only summed up the vibe of the evening, which was about celebrating both the maximum city and its women but also gave the audience a chance to know the national award winning actor’s journey into the city and how it gradually became a home. Full of fun and candour, here are some snippets from the last chat of the exciting evening.

Kalki revealed that she initially came to the city because there was an audition for an international theatre project called ‘Contacting The World.’ She moved to the city when she got selected in the audition and it was a six month long commitment. Recalling her earliest memory of Bombay, Kalki said, “I was actually living at a family friend’s house on Worli sea face and thinking ‘Oh, Bombay is so lovely. There’s so much fresh air and open view. Little did I know that I would have to find a place to rent, and obviously I couldn’t afford Worli sea face and I found myself in a small gully in Bandra.”

It was ironic because everyone wanted to take selfies with me but nobody wanted me to live in their building. – Kalki Koechlin on househunting as a celebrity in Bombay.

It wasn’t easy for a French-Indian girl who couldn’t speak Hindi very well, was single and wanted to be an actor, to settle down in Bombay, as all these things raised red flags for house owners. While she had her share of struggles, Kalki revealed that she had more trouble house hunting after she separated from her husband, director Anurag Kashyap. “It was much harder to find a house then, maybe because of the celebrityhood, I guess,” she said, adding, “It was ironic because everyone wanted to take a selfies with me but nobody wanted me to live in their building.” Kalki said that she flew her mother down to live with her to finally convince the homeowners.

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Kalki has an impressive filmography to boast about, with her performances in films like Margarita With A Straw, Shaghai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Gully Boy bringing her both fame and accolades. However, she said that she was quite alien to Bollywood in the beginning of her career, since she was more into theatre, and the exposure to glamour didn’t happen for a while. She said her foray into films was more of a practical step to be able to pay the rent. “I didn’t see myself becoming a big actor in Bollywood, just because at that time my Hindi was weak, I looked like a foreigner, am not a good dancer, so I didn’t have any ins in the beginning.”

However, her struggle never put her in the space where she felt that she should quit as she got her first film Dev D quite early on and she was busy with theatre. Her rise to fame, she said, wasn’t very sudden, even though she won a Filmfare award for her performance in the film. Said she, “After Dev D I didn’t get a film for one and a half year, and I went back to theatre. I wrote ‘The Skeleton Woman’ after Dev D and just did theatre for one and a half year.”

Bombay as a city is getting more congested and crowded. I do feel it is not as safe a city as it was ten years ago. I used to come back at three in the morning in an auto without any worry then, but today I feel it is not as straightforward as that. – Kalki Koechlin

Bombay is known for its fast-paced lifestyle, leaving all Mumbaikars gasping for fresh air and a little space to loosen up. Clearly it is only worse for people who live in the public eye. Kalki shed light on how her life in the city often left her yearning for a break. “Whenever I am in Bombay I can’t be still and I can’t read a book. I find myself wanting to catch up with friends, meet people, go to a concert, do things. It is really vibrant and culturally exciting, but sometimes you become an empty shell as you are not doing anything for yourself. So I do feel the need to switch off and go somewhere else.”

The city, she said, had taught her the art of jugaad. “I just love that Bombay has a number for everything. From your vegetable vendor to your nariyalpaaniwala or newspaperwala, to your electrician or the guy who comes just to put up painting on the wall. There is a guy for everything,” Kalki quipped.

However, the city has its fair share of infrastructural problems too. Kalki opined that Bombay as a city is getting more congested and crowded. Said she, “I do feel it is not as safe a city as it was ten years ago. I used to come back at three in the morning in an auto without any worry then, but today I feel it is not as straightforward as that. We also need to wake up to the way we are treating our ocean and beaches. It is disturbing to see stuff like plastic, syringes and all sorts of disturbing things on the beach. It needs a collective consciousness and I think we have it, but it is just that we have somehow become so busy with our lives, that we think that somebody else should sort it out. But as a community we have it in us to take care of our neighbourhood and that is it. If all of us took care of our surroundings a little bit then that would help a lot. That is the important change that needs to happen. On the positive side, this is the best city in the country when it comes to meeting interesting people, doing odd things. It infuses you with creativity and it also has so much going on.”

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