Kalki Koechlin, pronounced as Kalki ‘Kekla’, has been winning our hearts with her toothy smile, social activist spirit, and brilliant performances in Bollywood since 2009. She burst into the Indian movie scene as the modern day Chandramukhi aka Leni in Dev D. From the very start, Kalki made one thing clear- that she was not your regular glam queen. She has made unconventional choices in her movie roles as well as her life when she chose to go for a divorce with husband, Anurag Kashyap because she “did not want to pretend for other people.” (READ: 10 Bollywood Divas Who Are Ruling The Silver Screen Even After Marriage)
Kalki has been very vocal about being a feminist, she has spoken out about her own sexual abuse as a child, and done several things that have been nothing short of empowering; i.e., if we overlook her controversial endorsement of a certain beauty product that has been deemed ageist in nature. She has starred in many roles that have impressed both the commercial-loving as well as the intellectual movie-goers. And, here we present to you some of her best performances on-screen.
#1. Dev D (2009)
Gif via Tumblr
Kalki plays the role of Leni, a victim of an MMS scandal, who later turns to prostituting for high-paying clients to pay for her education after being disowned by her family. This Anurag Kashyap film was critically acclaimed, and gained a lot of fan following for its innovative narrative style, stylistic visuals and powerful performances by all the three leading actors, Abhay Deol, Mahi Gill, and Kalki herself. She won the Best Supporting Actress Filmfare Award for her performance.
#2. That Girl In Yellow Boots (2010)
Image Courtesy: That Girl In Yellow Boots
Even though she was praised for Dev D, she remained unemployed for a year and a half before she starred in That Girl In Yellow Boots, which she co-wrote along with Anurag Kashyap, who also directed the film. The film dealt with dark issues like child abuse, prostitution, alienation, and was hailed for the way it was shot to provide the audience a sense of claustrophobia and extreme unease.
It is not just her roles, but her style also that has made us fall in love with Kalki. Learn the tips here: How To Wear Ear Cuffs Like A Celebrity
#3. Shaitan (2011)
Image Courtesy: Shaitan
Directed by Bejoy Nambiar, Shaitan, was a thriller that captured the fascination of the audiences. It is about a bunch of rich twenty-somethings, whose hedonistic way of living life comes to a crashing halt when one drunken night they accidentally kill someone. Kalki’s portrayal of a character bordering on mania, sometimes drug-induced, sometimes life-induced again gained her a lot of praise.
#4. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
Gif via Tumblr
This Zoya Akhtar film was Kalki’s first foray into out and out commercial mainstream cinema. She played a less-than-likeable character in this coming-of-age saga starring big Bollywood names like Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol and Katrina Kaif. She rendered a certain complexity to her portrayal of a sensible turned jealous and possessive woman that actually made her seem more human.
Recommended Read: Top 10 Worst Bollywood Jodis Of 2015 That Made You Cringe This Year
#5. Shanghai (2012)
Image Courtesy: Shanghai
This Dibakar Bannerjee film questioned the way the system works, it raised an ostensible finger against establishment and authority. As film critic Anupama Chopra put it, “The Shanghai in the title isn’t a city. It’s a state of being, a metaphor, an aspirational fantasy.” Kalki’s character gets mired in the political murder of her professor Dr. Ahmadi, and the film follows the juggernaut that ensues in the fight between corruption and truth.
#6. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)
Gif via Tumblr
Another mainstream film directed by Ayan Mukerji had Kalki portray another coming-of-age role along with Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Aditya Roy Kapoor. Even though the main focus was on the lead pair of Ranbir-Deepika, Kalki managed to steal hearts with her performance. This was a strictly feel good movie, where everyone gets a happy ending, unlike Kalki’s most other films.
#7. Margarita, With A Straw (2014)
Image Courtesy: Margarita, With A Straw
Right after the commercially successful Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Kalki wowed the audience with a refreshingly honest performance in this Shonali Bose film. Disability is often misunderstood in our society, and sexuality is another misunderstood taboo topic. But, this film dealt with the topic of disability and sexuality with absolute finesse. Pointless to mention, Kalki’s performance was superlative. This film, at the end of it all, was all about learning to love oneself, no matter how we are.
#8. The Printing Machine
Even if this is not a film, this powerful video deserves to be on a list that is about Kalki’s most memorable performances. In this captivating piece that Kalki made in collaboration with BLUSH, she performs a poem she wrote herself, called The Printing Machine. It is an angry vituperation against our culture, which has gone so morally numb that no news is shocking enough for us to be permanently enraged. Her words and hypnotic rhythm will suck you into consuming each line she doles out about our obsession with juicy, controversial headlines, and our ultimate apathy to everything happening around us.
Recommended Read: 10 Bollywood Movies That Will Convince You To Drop Everything And Travel
Kalki seems to have perfected the art of balancing between good commercial films, the gritty non-mainstream ones, and award-winning theatre with ease now. As she turns 32, we wish she continues to wow us with her performances and continues to empower us with her social activism.