Kalesh with Kalki: The manic pixie dream girl in a Zoya Akhtar-Reema Kagti world | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Kalesh with Kalki: Can we have a Zoya-Reema story where the actor is more than just the protagonist's conflict?

ByDevansh Sharma
Dec 27, 2023 01:45 PM IST

Role Call: From Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara to Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, Kalki Koechlin has been rather curiously cast in stories written by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti.

In Arjun Varain Singh's buddy movie Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, Kalki Koechlin plays a photographer and the girlfriend of a much younger Imaad (Siddhant Chaturvedi), who is averse to attachment and addicted to casual dating. Her character is a widow who only wants a stable relationship. If there's a common thread in stories backed by Excel Entertainment and co-written by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, it's the protagonist's coming-of-age and the role of Kalki's character in getting him there.

Kalki Koechlin has done four films with Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti as writers
Kalki Koechlin has done four films with Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti as writers

(Also Read: Kho Gaye Hum Kahan review: A relatable, relevant tale that exposes the perils of the virtual world)

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Manic pixie dream girl

In that case, Kalki can be classified as the manic pixie dream girl in a Zoya-Reema world. To her credit, she plays a new manic pixie dream girl in each of their stories. In Zoya's 2011 road movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, she's the obsessive girlfriend who pops up in the middle of her fiancé's bachelor's trip in order to ‘surprise’ him. But in Zoya's 2019 film Gully Boy, she plays the fairly progressive music producer who sees great potential in a Dharavi rapper.

If she turns into the conflicted divorcee who breaks the marriage of her best friends in the Prime Video India Original show Made in Heaven, she becomes the mature yet dignified girlfriend who breaks up with her younger boyfriend upon realising that he's still on a dating website. Kalki somehow manages to make every manic pixie dream girl count, despite the limited imagination that goes into her casting.

Kalesh represent

It's interesting to note that despite being the manic pixie dream girl, Kalki is never cast as the leading lady. She's either ‘the other woman’ or the girlfriend suspecting presence of the other woman. Either way, she brings in the kalesh and accelerates the story forward, just that she never writes her own story in the process. Her backstory is hinted at, but her primary purpose is decidedly to fill a void in the protagonist's life.

In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, that void is commitment phobia. After Kabir (Abhay Deol) accidentally proposes to his girlfriend Natasha (Kalki) at a family dinner, he can't get himself to backtrack after gauging the excitement of his now-fiancé and their families. The fact is Natasha is as commitment-phobic as Kabir, but her language is of asserting herself whereas Kabir's is that of succumbing. After insisting that she doesn't want to come across as a chudhail (witch) to his friends, she acts exactly like one.

In Gully Boy, Kalki symbolises ambition. For the protagonist Murad (Ranveer Singh), a gully rapper, he gets patronage from Kalki's character of an experienced and well-travelled music producer, aptly named Sky. When their professional partnership transcends into a kiss, it's not just any affair, but a kiss with newfound fame and validation. That's why his volatile girlfriend Safeena (Alia Bhatt) cracks a glass bottle on Sky's head when she tries to explain to her that “nothing happened, it was just a kiss."

In Made in Heaven, Kalki represents class. After her family friend Adil (Jim Sarbh) marries his PA Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala), she takes him under her wing, lends her luxury clothes to her, and introduces her to elite circles. However, after her divorce goes through, Faiza starts sleeping with Adil, both cheating on Tara. Thanks to the long-form structure, Kalki's character here gets more screentime and a device to explain her actions through her therapy sessions. But in the larger context, those scenes serve the same purpose Kalki does in all Zoya-Reema stories: fill the gaps, instead of making the viewer feel for her.

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is no exception. Although she's not as negative an energy in this narrative, the primary motive behind her inclusion in the plot is to make Imaad come to terms with his deep-seated abandonment issue. Here, Kalki stands for stability, a virtue Imaad is seeking in his relationships, but isn't able to sustain because of commitment phobia induced by childhood trauma. When she finds out he's on a dating app, she firmly but respectfully asks him to leave. “I can't be like a 25-year-old anymore,” she says. This does push him to face his demons and come back to her a changed man, though it's never established if they get back together for good.

Kalki's arc through Zoya and Reema's filmography begs the question: when will she get her own story? Where she's the protagonist and needs no man to ferry her to greener pastures. We saw a glimpse of how much fun that can be, when Natasha vibes to ‘I am a rock chick in a hard rock world’ while driving the powder blue Buick super convertible in Spain. We want to see her play, embrace, and own that ‘rock chick,’ instead of reducing herself to yet another version of the manic pixie dream girl.

In Role Call, Devansh Sharma decodes inspired casting choices in films and shows.

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