By Subhash K. Jha
From the time last year, when Katrina Kaif celebrated her birthday, things couldn’t have become worse. Her love life was in a shambles with her relationship with Ranbir Kapoor coming to an end and her career, which had been put on hold for love, was going nowhere.
This year she may have a lot to smile about on her birthday on July 16.
What really gets her goat is the way her unparalleled success ratio is undermined by being dismissed as a matter of luck.
“It’s not as if I was just lucky to be in successful films. Of course, I’ve been lucky. But I’ve also worked very hard to get where I am. And please don’t forget, I chose those films that went on to be successful. So please grant me that bit of intelligence,” she had once told me, quickly adding: “And by the way, I was advised by friends not to do many of the films that eventually turned out to be hits.”
She admitted that she sought the help of Salman Khan initially to decide which films to do.
“Not just Salman, I also took the advice of people like Sajid Nadiadwala and David Dhawan. But finally the films I did were my call,” said Katrina who’s transparently honest and unpretentious but who often tries to underplay her intelligence simply to fit into the “Bharatiya Nari” mould.
“Oh, one has to work very hard. Men don’t like to be around women who can talk back. I like to make my point. But I don’t like to be aggressive and insistent in my attitude. At the same time you won’t see me knocking on producers’ doors at odd hours to get work. I never have. I never will,” she asserted.
Katrina is the happiest when the audience sees her as full-on desi heroine, often more so than the size-O heroines who seem to belong to another hemisphere. “It’s because I grew up in a large joint family filled with seven sisters and brothers. The atmosphere at home was very Indian. We were brought up on values that are very Indian. I guess that explains why I’m so Indian in my outlook, although I’m half-British and half-Indian by birth.”
Katrina’s struggle started in 2000 when she arrived in Mumbai. “I came to Mumbai to be a model. I had no inkling at that point of time that I was going to be an actress. I met photographer Farrokh Chothia who put me on to the right modeling agencies. Soon, modeling assignments began to trickle in. After her portfolio by glam-photographer Daboo Ratnani was circulated, Katrina landed her first film project.
“When I did ‘Boom’ in 2003, I was clueless about my intentions, camera angles, language, the works. I’d say my film career started with Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Sarkar’ in 2005, followed by ‘Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya’. I was kinda getting bored with modelling and ramp walking. I sensed I had reached a saturation point there and needed to move on. Acting seemed the next natural step,” she says.
Katrina once described her early days in Mumbai as lonely.
“To begin with I lived in a two-bedroom flat near Rizvi College. The entire day I’d be visiting modeling agencies. In the evening, I’d return home to a lonely house. I’d miss my sisters’ presence around me. But I didn’t really had to struggle hard. And nothing untoward happened to me. No one made any sleazy suggestions,” Katrina recalled.
Her lack of knowledge of Hindi did not really bother her. “In any case, everyone in the modeling world spoke English. That wasn’t a problem, except when I had to haggle with auto-rickshaw walahs to avoid being cheated and to find addresses in Mumbai. That was tough.”
What she found awkward were the gawkers. “Because I came from London, I dressed in a certain casual way that was not quite acceptable in Mumbai. You know, stuff like shorts and tops, or just the kind of clothes that are considered trendy among college kids, but somewhat bold for working girls. People would simply stare. I had to change the way I dressed,” she said.
She hired a tutor to teach her Hindi and started taking Kathak lessons from a guru who also taught Priyanka Chopra.
About her embracing Salman Khan’s family wholeheartedly, Katrina says: “Salman guided me, helped me choose the right roles and was there for me constantly. With him and his family around, I never felt alone in Mumbai.”
She says she often ends up “sub-consciously looking for a father- figure” in her male company. She and her sisters grew up without a father in the house. “So I guess I do look for sensible, wise male company. I get bored with giddy-headed guys my own age,” she said.
Beyond that Katrina won’t talk about her personal life. “It’s very simple. I’m a friendly girl. I don’t like to offend anyone. But in pleasing others and not offending them, I won’t compromise with my own inbuilt sense of right and wrong. I know what I want in life. And I won’t take any short cuts.”
Now, of course, I haven’t spoken to Katrina for many years. But my respect for her remains. I wish her well, as always.