Asking Kalki's views on feminism is like asking a mechanic to talk shop—it comes so naturally and eloquently that everyone wants to do it. She's been more than vocal about the dire need for feminism, what we need to get about the concept ("once and for all—it's equality, please!" she sighs) and what we ought to be fighting for. But we couldn't help but wonder how Kalkigrew up to be the fierce and feisty force she is. Turns out, there's a small army of women that share credit...

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1. "My Mother" 

Kalki fondly describes her mother, Francoise, as a 'fiery, French woman' who taught her how to self-analyse. "She instilled in us this idea that self-improvement is organic, and it has to be an ongoing process. She made sure I studied Tamil and French rigorously—despite the fact I'd been enrolled in an English medium school." She also attributes her founding introductions to cinema through her mother. "I watched a lot of (François) Truffaut and (Jean-Luc) Godard because of her, and so I grew both acquainted with, and deeply fond of, French cinema. She ODed on films like Bandit Queen and Salaam Bombay and "'alternative' cinema like that," she smiles. 

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She tells us that her mother's opinions always stood out in the house, and that she, herself, was encouraged to have an opinion. "Whether you were a boy or a girl didn't matter. I had to partake of everything. My parents split up when I was 12, and when there's no man in the house, you learn to do it all," she says, divulging that this is why she learned to change car tyres, amongst other skills. "It was just the way she raised us," she says, matter-of-fact-ly.

2. "Ms Grimes"

Kalki describes her as "a sister-ish teacher who taught at my school in Ooty". 

"I entered that school well-versed in Tamil and French, but my English wasn't great. I was always lagging behind in class—until she took up my cause. She pushed me to take on extra reading, and I spent my holidays with Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. She inculcated the importance of reading in me." Considering she then went on to be a lit major (not to mention a writer), she reiterates her first surge of emotions about her teacher. "My God, I owe her!"

3. "Karuna Nundy"

...the Supreme Court lawyer, best known for fighting for women's rights. "I'm used to a different side of her, because I always meet her when we're drinking," Kalki laughs. On a more serious note, she talks about how much she's inspired by her indefatigable fight for women. "Just last year, we put together a 'womanifesto'  about certain rights we wanted put into play. We pitched it to the government—and they approved!" she cheers. But she adds that it's people like Karuna who take care of a lot of the legwork for feminism to become a practical reality. "She's always out there, fighting the good fight."

4. "Zoya Akhtar"

"She's grown up in the 'starriest' universe possible, but she's really got her head on her shoulders," Kalki says, adding that Zoya was the first female director she'd worked with—and what a learning it was! "There's a sense of independence in her—the way she travels, and talks about things. I can see her turning into a single mom one day!" Kalki laughs. "She's not going to wait for a man to have a kid. She's too cool for that!" She talks about how she's learnt to treat stars normally while working with Zoya. "She never mollycoddles anyone or treats them special. Everyone eats and chills together. She's very no-nonsense and equalising; it's brilliant to watch." 

5. "Radhika Apte"

The kind of characters that Radhika plays, in Kalki's opinion, are revolutionary because of how they de-stereotype women. "The roles she chooses always show women in a very real way. And she is so forthright and opinionated! I feel like she'll be a great director someday," she muses. "She's also incredibly unafraid. She talks back, fights back, shouts back. Of the two of us, she's definitely the chatterbox! We're well-matched for opinions, and can have all-night-long arguments about a trillion subjects." 

6. "Anamika Huksar"

"She's this incredible, Delhi-based theatre director who just moved to Bombay," Kalki explains. "I've  done workshops with her. She's the kind of woman who will not even look at you if you're two minutes late to her class," she reminisces. "Oh, and if you ever dared try to pull off a piece you'd written without having done your homework, she'd see through your bullsh*t in 30 seconds! I once had to play a fisher woman, and she made me go to Versova fish market and sit with those really loud fisher women, and handle the fish. Like, proper method acting!" There's no one who taught her to 'live' the character better, in her opinion.

7. "Maya Sarao" 

A street performance artist that Kalki adores, she "encapsulates feminist struggles through her work brilliantly," Kalki gushes. "For instance, she does this piece where she moves through minutes—minute one, minute two, etc—talking about something that's happening to a woman somewhere in every minute. It's powerful." 

8. "Aditi Mittal"

She thinks the stand-up comedian is wickedly funny—something women are stereotyped not to be. "She's uncensored and unapologetic. Her whole thought-process is 'Why should we be soft-spoken and gentle?' 'Why can't we be brash and crude?'" She describes a part of Aditi's act where she talks about menstruation and going to the store to buy sanitary napkins. "She jokes about how shopkeepers wrap up sanitary napkins in newspaper, and she goes, 'Some Afghan drug dealers don't have that kind of discretion!' It's that kind of proud notion busting that makes her truly applaudable."

9. "Joan of Arc"

Kalki mentions, first, that she's been obsessed with Joan of Arc forever. "I love that, so far back in history, a woman led an army by herself. It's always fascinated me that someone so young could be that fearless!" 

10. "Anurag Kashyap" 

Kalki breaks the '10 women' mandate, ending her list with a man—her ex husband. "Anurag always encouraged me to create and write, and took my opinions seriously. Even though he was older, he treated me like an equal, and let me grow as a woman. The kind of respect he gave me as a colleague and partner is crucial between friends or a couple," she ends. 

Photographs by Abhay Singh

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