Handbags are Kalki Koechlin's new best friend
About nine years ago, I sat next to a very attractive girl at the Lakme Fashion Week. She seemed a bit nervous, her face did not appear to have any traces of makeup, her clothes were bohemian, and yet her look oozed elegance. Friendly and warm, she soon introduced herself to me as Kalki Koechlin. I could place her almost immediately - she was the young actress who was to debut in Anurag Kashyap's Dev D. Charming and intelligent, it became obvious that Kalki would bring in freshness to the largely formulaic commercial cinema.
Since I was editing a fashion magazine in India then, Kalki became my next cover girl. It was not a decision many in my team agreed with - most of them felt she was too casual in her style and would never make a lasting impact in "our" world.
They got it wrong. so wrong.
When it comes to films, Kalki has never believed in playing safe. Ditto is true for her style. Consciously staying away from too tight or too revealing clothes, she has often been spotted in Christian Dior, Gaurav Gupta, Shift by Nimish Shah and Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
Kalki has proved that you can be both comfortable and chic in your fashion choices. She has also walked the ramp for Gaurav Gupta and the Mumbai-based label Amoh by Jade. Recently, Hidesign, the Made-in-India leather brand known for its bags and accessories, collaborated with Kalki for a capsule collection. Guess what the two have in common? Pondicherry. Hidesign is based in this city, while Kalki spent her formative years here. "Kalki is a Pondicherry beauty, we are a Pondicherry brand: coming together was natural and easy. The values are similar and inspired by the culture of Pondicherry: love of nature, clean simple designs, innovation and originality," says Dilip Kapur, founder of Hidesign.
Recently, on her Instagram page, Kalki posted about the collaboration stating that the brand only uses byproduct leather, works with natural vegetable tanning instead of chemical tanning, which is carcinogenic, and 90 per cent of its employees are women. In other words, the actress has ensured that she is on the right side of fashion, ethically.
While many actors work hard to establish themselves as style icons, for Kalki, it was largely unplanned... much like her career itself. She was almost not cast as Leni in Dev D, as Anurag Kashyap, who directed the film, felt Kalki did not look the part owing to her non-Indian features. But the light-eyed beauty held her own and went on to star in offbeat films such as Emotional Atyachar and That Girl In Yellow Boots, for which she was also the screenwriter.
Quiz her on the role she's most proud of, and Kalki takes no time in saying Laila, her character in Shonali Bose's Margarita With A Straw. "I really got to live the role for six months, so much so that it became a part of my life. It was actually quite hard to shake myself off that role after the filming was over," she says.
It's convenient to assume that Kalki is a method actor. However, she maintains that she does not stick to any singular formula when it comes to her craft. Almost every role that she has essayed, however complex, has won her critical praise. In 2011, when she appeared in Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the fashion fraternity sat back and took note of her fashion choices. Her fuss-free style during the film promotions - braided hair, polka skirt teamed with a simple white cap sleeve shirt and a midi-length floral dress with a crochet gilet and flat sandals - was refreshing in its refusal to adhere to the standard glamorous fare. She played the Hermès bag-loving Natasha Arora in the film that was her foray into mainstream Hindi cinema.
So, what is Kalki Koechlin's off-screen style? "It's mercurial," she says. "It changes with my mood and the weather. I have the grassroots influences of Auroville and organic sustainable fabrics as well as a heavy French influence from my grandmother, who was a model. I remember her wearing designer outfits from the '30s, '40s and '50s."
Despite her flower child approach to fashion, Kalki admits that she did feel the pressure of looking a certain way at the beginning of her career. "I have stopped stressing about it," she says, adding, "People should know the real me because that's what I base my work and choices on. Besides, people love imperfections, the Japanese even have a word for it wabi-sabi, which means beauty in imperfection."
Her flair for experimentation has seen her don offbeat looks. "I have always experimented with clothes, first with my grandmother and my mother's wardrobe, then with vintage second-hand stores when I was a student and now with collaborations with wonderful and talented designers." From going head-to-toe with Dior to wearing an Amit Aggarwal strapless gown made from a vintage sari, she is effortlessly stylish. That is not to say she can do no wrong. There have been times when the fashion police have found her looks too plain, but somehow she's pulled it off with her 'I don't care' attitude. Though she works with stylists, she makes her own fashion choices.
The capsule collection she has designed for Hidesign has a casual cool look. "Kalki was involved right from the beginning. The direction of the designs, what works for her and does not, was set by her. She went through with us on the materials, the individual designs, the changes and the basic philosophy of this collection," says Dilip Kapur.
The prices start at INR2,395 (Dh135), thereby ensuring that the collection is affordable. What are Kalki's own picks, though? "3am is my style diva coming out; it's classy and upmarket. The tan leather backpack 'Human' is my practical, day-to-day bag with lots of compartments. 'Alive' in red has vintage influences from my grandmother and 'Freedom' is the bag I'd take to a music festival." It remains to be seen if any of these can replace Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara's Bagwati in Zoya Akhtar's next, Gully Boy, where Kalki will be seen alongside Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt.