india

That millennial life

Sometime in 2017, Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin received an email from Jon Manel of the BBC’s World Service. He asked if she would be interested in hosting a podcast focussed exclusively on Indian stories. Koechlin took more than six months to accept, thanks to her busy schedule. But she is glad she did. The culmination of months of research and hours of recording launches today, with the first episode of
Kalki Presents: My Indian Life
. With 10 episodes featuring as many guests (each clocking in at over 20 minutes) — Koechlin emphasises that the series is a collection of “compelling, personal stories about being young and Indian”.

In the pilot, we hear the chiming bells of Delhi-based belly dancer Eshan Hilal’s hip chain. Drawn to dancing at a young age, Hilal describes how he was physically beaten by his father even as he continued to practise the art form. There was mounting family pressure to stop. “I felt like a defective piece by God,” he recounts sombrely, going on to speak with Koechlin about how he stood his ground and stayed committed to dance as a profession.

Everyday stories

“These people are very much relevant to the changes that India has faced in the last 20 years,” explains Koechlin, about the podcast’s focus on young subjects. “Forward-thinking people from different fields doing things that we never expected.” Another episode features an ice hockey player from Ladakh, who recounts the story of how she and her team would spend an entire night pouring water into an enclosed space so that they would have an ice rink to practise on the next day. The topics covered in the series range from sexual abuse to caste-based prejudice to family discrimination.

Koechlin, whose own French heritage and upbringing in Auroville makes for a fascinating story about the different shades of India, is grateful for the podcast because it has helped her escape the social media echo chamber. “It really opened up my views. The kind of things I listen to are still very much connected to the people that I know. I am learning a lot,” she introspects.

While she opens with the lines, “If you are young and Indian, this is your podcast,” the actor believes that the stories will find resonance with non-local audiences, too. “These are human emotions that are universal,” she explains. “We have focussed on understanding what’s going on in India, but the problems described are not purely Indian.”

With the backing of a global media house and a spotlight on India’s diversity,
My Indian Life
stands to provide incredible insight into complex stories, similar to what Rukmini Callimachi’s
The Caliphate,
or series three of Malcom Gladwell’s
Revisionist History
, have achieved. Yet, the pilot disappoints. It feels clinical, with Koechlin’s studio voice booming in over live-sound recordings, translating an intimate conversation between Hilal and his mother from Hindustani to English. The host does not feel connected to the subject.

Exploring platforms

Koechlin has a well-established reputation for working across mediums. With a wide list of theatrical productions already under her belt, the actor, who was recently appointed Chevalier de Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, has embraced the podcast because of the anonymity it offers. “A person feels a lot less conscious talking into a recorder than being on video,” she explains. “It can get very intimate because you’re not feeling conscious of yourself. It’s an incredible medium in terms of just being able to listen to a person.”

There is also the convenience of listening to a podcast, she points out. “I listen to them in the morning when I’m doing other things, and I find that (the information) seeps in without you noticing,” she says. Her current favourites are IVM’s
The Pragati Podcast
, as well as the occasional French podcast that her mother shares with her.

Koechlin, who recently completed filming for Zoya Akhtar’s upcoming film,
Gully Boy
, will also be seen in Amazon Prime’s upcoming web series,
Made in Heaven
. As for season two of
My Indian Life
, she says pensively, “I hope so.”

Listeners can expect to hear compelling and personal stories about being young and Indian

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