Kalki Koechlin: People are afraid to mention Pakistan in India

The Dev D actress talks about her upcoming documentary Azmaish, her experience in Pakistan, and how she chooses her roles

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Two nations, India and Pakistan and a lot of conflict, political issues, and tension at the borders. Amidst of all this, two wonderful women from these nations came up with an unconventional idea to understand the Indian and Pakistani thought process through its people.

Kalki Koechlin who is popular for her unconventional film choices has teamed up with award-winning Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar for a documentary – Azmaish – Trials of Life. The documentary traces the journey of an Indian and a Pakistani travelling to each other’s country to understand why people are turning to religious extremism. Azmaish also tries to understand the role of religion in people’s lives, the value of freedom of choice, and the status of women in these societies. “One should watch Azmaish to learn more about each other and about ourselves and it shows the human aspect about to both our countries,” shares Kalki.

Bayside Journal caught up with the Dev D actor Kalki Koechlin. She talks about her upcoming documentary Azmaish, her experience in Pakistan, and how she chooses her roles.

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You are known for your unconventional movie choices. What made you sign up for Azmaish?

In Azmaish, I am just being myself. One, I have really liked Sabiha’s previous works. She has made a documentary Dinner with the President and the movie Khamosh Pani. So, I like her simple sensibility; for me it was an area of curiosity to see these two countries outside of conflict. Two, we mostly see these two countries as conflict zones – be it cricket or anything else. I really wanted to see these two countries in a different context. And three, the idea of doing a documentary is something new to me; so I was curious about it.

Do you think amidst rising tensions between India and Pakistan, this movie can bring a change in people’s point of view?

The documentary isn’t a magic wand that can change everything. The dialogue has to continue. There is no solution to changing women’s problem or women’s issues through one film but we have to have more people discussing the subject, debating about it. We can’t be afraid to talk about it and this has happened in recent past; people are afraid to mention Pakistan in India. So I think it’s important that we eliminate the fear factor. So obviously, I don’t think one documentary can change everything but I do believe it can help; it can contribute to understanding each other better.

Do you feel aggrieved regarding the Indian ban on Pakistani artists?

That’s a political decision between the two countries because of military tension. I find it sad; I think we should have the freedom of expression and the ability to, at least in film, culture and storytelling, be able to talk about these things.

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How do you choose a movie role?

Firstly, it comes to me. Like when I meet a director. A lot of it is in the fashion of how they describe it, and why they want to make the film. There are many reasons to making a film; you have got to see that vision very clearly. For me, it’s also the type of story; I just want to explore as much as possible. Also I want to learn, discover, and try to break out of my own stereotype.

What is your opinion regarding religion extremism in India? Has this film changed your perspective?

Religious extremism is far stronger in Pakistan. Pakistan is a religious state; the fear of religion there is huge. I think we are still fairly secular. Even though people do follow religion, there is still a lot of acceptance of other religions because we are a diverse country and we have so many different cultural beliefs. It is hard to suppress any religion in India and only have one mainstream religion that rules everybody, so I think that works in our favour really.

What was the one thing that surprised you the most or shocked you the most during your visit to Pakistan?

One thing that shocked me the most was how they are still a very strong agricultural world, where they have a pseudo landlord who runs a huge amount of land, almost like a dictator. He is someone who owns five to six villages and everyone works for him. How we used to have zamindars in India but the tradition is pretty much gone now. That practice is very strong in Pakistan even now. So people in those areas have very little freedom because they are pretty much owned by these pseudo landlords.

One thing that surprised me was that though I expected the love for Bollywood but I didn’t expect them to know me so well. They all knew my name, my movies. Generally, there was a lot of love and acceptance.

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Which cities did you visit in Pakistan? Any special food you tried there that’s not available here? 

I visited Islamabad and Karachi and then we went into the deserts in Sindh. I loved mutton there; like I have had mutton in India but there it was really good. Honestly, I don’t really remember the names of things I had. But Sabiha did cook a proper Pakistani meal for me but I can’t remember the names of the dishes.

This is your second movie that has used crowd funding. Is this a new way to produce movies that are not backed by production houses?  

I think crowd funding proves that democracy is alive. It really gives small films the chance to get out there and now my film Mantra is getting released on March 3, 2017. So it’s quite something that a film is made by the people in a way.

Off late, there has been a rise of women directors in the Hindi film industry. At some point of time in the future, will we see you donning the director’s hat?

I don’t think I am interested in becoming a director – not anytime soon. I don’t feel the itch for it at all.

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When can we expect Azmaish to release?

I don’t really know; it is partly produced by German company. It is going to release in Germany for sure. It is going to London for a film festival in March and we still don’t know when it will release in India and Pakistan because of our political situations but we always have the Internet.