Kirti Kulhari’s chameleon-esque tendencies from everyday life reflect in her on-screen avatars — like in Pink, Four More Shots Please! and Indu Sarkar. In conversation with this outspoken actor, HELLO! is fascinated by her perspective on life, approach to acting, and emphasis on living solely on her terms.
Be it in Pink, Four More Shots Please!, Uri: The Surgical Strike, Indu Sarkar or Mission Mangal, she’s been recognised for bringing to life headstrong women who stand their ground and speak their mind. It’s destiny that brought such characters her way, for Kirti Kulhari is empowered and independent herself.
“I wasn’t always like this though. It’s been a two-way process — I play these characters and, in turn, learn from them. I welcome their traits to become stronger in life,” she says with conviction. “The more I essay such roles, the more I learn, and the exchange between my reel and real life continues…
“You have to live your life your own way. This is what women who watch my work can imbibe: make their own choices based on who they are and what they believe is good for them.”
Kirti became a household name following the release of Pink, in which she shared the screen with Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu. In fact, she believes it was the turning point in her career, which started not too many years before the movie’s release.
“Pink was a wonderful film with a powerful message. It was the first time the idea of consent was introduced so majorly to society… It changed the way I was perceived as an actor.”
Kirti also credits the Emmy-nominated Four More Shots Please! for the recognition it got her and the conversations it prompted. She explains: “The show was another game-changer for me. Its portrayal of the lives of four women made a lot of difference to those who watched it.”
And speaking of portrayal of women, this actor welcomes the changing narrative in the entertainment industry today. When it comes to women’s representation and the kind of characters written for the “fairer sex” nowadays, she believes she’s a prime example of the transformation that’s underway.
“Stories and characters are getting more real, representations are getting more varied. We’re trying to tap into different kinds of women from all walks of life — backgrounds, races, castes, professions — and also delve into the nuances of those differences. It’s a great time to really break the glass ceiling and find your voice.”
Kirti & The Craft
Over the course of her career, which began in 2010 with the release of Khichdi: The Movie, the 38-year-old believes she’s grown not just as an actor but also as a person. The latter manifested itself in the form of detachment, which disallows her from getting affected by “everything that happens around me and everyone around me.”
“And that’s what I’ve brought to my acting,” she says. “I become my characters, do my homework and go into their depths, but there’s still a sense of detachment. I take something back with me only if I feel the need. Otherwise they’re left behind…”
From an admirable scientist in Mission Mangal and a no-nonsense lawyer in Four More Shots Please!, to a murder accused in Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors, a flight lieutenant in Uri: The Surgical Strike, and the emotional centre of Bard of Blood, her choice of scripts have been multifarious — deliberate decisions made to bring variety to her filmography.
“Every character has a story and life of its own. To me, that’s what acting is about — to bring people to life without judgement or conditionings. So my choices have been varied, and that’s how they will continue to be.”
The Evolving Industry
With the scope to transcend borders and not be limited by a couple of hours to tell a story, OTT has changed the entertainment industry the world over. Today, one could even argue that these platforms have surpassed the theatre experience in popularity. While Kirti agrees that big screens appear to have taken the backseat, she emphasises it’s only temporary and in the form of numbers.
“The experience of watching something on the big screen is incomparable,” she justifies. “OTT has surely brought to the surface a lot of talent, a lot of content, and a lot of people just trying to do something exciting and different. But it’s not about comparing one with the other as they’re both part of the same industry. OTT was a fresh start to a lot of things, and things are only going to change for the better hereon.”
Her OTT series have all been delightful successes, but it appears that Kirti is ready to take a break from shows to focus solely on films. “I love films above everything else,” she says. “While the technical and creative processes are the same for both, I love the idea of telling a story within a few hours. Series are also a much longer commitment. But I’m certainly open to working on a series if something truly wonderful comes my way!”
A leading actor when the script is substandard, or a supporting role in an ensemble cast when it’s fantastic — Kirti believes both have their merits, strengths and subsequent consequences, but it ultimately boils down to the character.
“Either way, if I don’t have a good character with which I can do something amazing, there’s no magic I can weave. I’m opposed to mediocrity in any form. I’ll even work on just one scene, and I’m very open to the idea of playing a supporting role — though the term is misused and misinterpreted in our country. There’s more to it than just the length of a role.”
Kirti, The Chameleon
As versatile as she’s on screen, it’s a trait that spills over to her daily life and Instagram page, as well. We’re taken by surprise (and sometimes awe) every other day by her chameleon-esque proclivity to change the colour of her hair or get inked with something new.
“Thankfully, I’m blessed with good hair. It’s resilient and survives all the experiments I put it through!” she enthuses. “I really took the plunge and went multicolour around 2014. It was a low phase, when work wasn’t coming my way. So I thought I might as well do what makes me happy.”
Since then, Kirti has cared less about appearances and gotten herself a number of tattoos, “going with the flow.” “They’re an expression of how I feel and the person I’m becoming — one who’s more free and liberated.”
Sporting a new short crop today, Kirti loves to emphasise how empowered she feels when she does something beyond the norm and just for herself. Her choices translate to her wardrobe, as well, which has evolved into a free-spirited, boho aesthetic that she credits to her love for travel.
“Originality over imitation, always. Don’t be a sheep in the herd when you can be the lion and lead the rest.”
More Than Just A Dream
More often than not, actors, filmmakers and the myriads of others who aspire to be part of the industry develop a passion for the craft on watching the talent of many translate on screen. But when asked if there was a dream role she aspired to be cast for, or a filmmaker she wished to work with, Kirti surprises us with her answer…
“I’ve slowly, steadily let go of a lot of my dreams. Right now, I’m fascinated by all that’s happening in my life and the choices I’m given. I’d rather make the most of them than focus on wanting to work with someone or the other. This, right now, is my dream, and this is how it should be. My idea of life is to keep moving down one path, not get stagnant by hoping to fulfil that one dream…”
While we live in a day and age where ambition is everything and goals are sacrosanct, Kirti’s perspective is a breath of fresh air. She leaves us with a gem as we wind up our conversation: “There’s not much I want out of life. I don’t have plans and don’t think about what I’ll do five years from now. I simply wish to go with the flow of life. I wish to become one with life and go where it takes me, go on an adventure…”
And we hope she comes out on the other side brighter, with even more inspiring performances and success!
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the July 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!