Last year at this time when Katrina Kaif celebrated her birthday things were rather bleak. Her love life was the topic of headlines in tabloids, thanks to her break-up with Ranbir Kapoor and her career was not doing too well either with some flops like Baar Baar Dekho to her discredit.
This year she has a lot to smile about on her birthday. Katrina dislikes 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 with that bit of intelligence,” she had once told me.
Before one could react to that she quickly added, “And by the way, I was advised by friends not to do many of the films that have eventually turned out to be hits.”
She admitted that she sought the help of Salman Khan initially to decide what 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 this transparently honest and unpretentiously beautiful girl who tries to underplay her intelligence simply to fit into the Bharatiya Nari mould. “Oh, one has to work very hard on it. 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.”
Katrina is the happiest when audiences see 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 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 first met photographer Farrokh Chothia who put me on to the right modeling agencies. Soon the modeling assignments began to trickle in. I was also introduced to (glam-photographer) Daboo Ratnani who did my portfolio.”
Ratnani’s photographs were circulated in the film industry. Soon Katrina landed with 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. That’s when my real initiation into acting began. I was kinda getting bored with modeling and ramp walking. I sensed I had reached a saturation point there and needed to move on. Acting seemed the next natural step.”
Katrina describes 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 it was okay. I don’t want to romanticize those days. I didn’t really have to struggle hard. Nothing untoward happened to me. No one made any sleazy suggestions.” What really bothered Katrina initially was not her lack of knowledge of Hindi. “In any case, everyone in the modeling world spoke English, so that wasn’t a problem, except when I had to haggle with auto-rickshaws to avoid being cheated and to find addresses in Mumbai. That was tough.”
Also 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 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. I also hired a tutor to teach me Hindi and I started learning Kathak dancing from a guru recommended by filmmaker Dharmesh Darshan. Both Priyanka Chopra and I learnt classical Indian dancing from the same man.”
Katrina now looks back on her nine years in Mumbai with much affection. “The city has given me a lot, and I today feel I am fully a part of the Indian entertainment industry. I’ve done films not only in Hindi but also in Telugu and Malayalam. Is there a sense of satisfaction in what I’ve achieved? There is, there most certainly is. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am. There are days when I don’t get more than 3-4 hours of sleep. But then all the hard work pays off. I feel I’ve earned my next holiday whenever it might be. I look forward to taking periodical breaks to be with my siblings and mother. ”
There aren’t too many friends in Mumbai. Katrina finds it hard to get along with her female colleagues. “It’s not as if I haven’t tried to make friends with….whoever. It never works out. There’s always that edge of competitiveness.”
One of the main reasons why she wholeheartedly embraced Salman Khan’s family was because they provided her with a comfort zone in a city where she was all alone. Katrina’s bonding with Salman’s family goes beyond the fair-weather relationships of the entertainment industry. The Khans really welcomed Katrina into their family .
Says Katrina, “Salman helped me a lot to find my bearings in Mumbai. He guided me, helped me choose the right roles and to find my place in Mumbai. He was there for me constantly. With Salman and his family around I never felt alone in Mumbai.” Katrina confessed to me that she often ends up subconsciously looking for a father- figure in her male company. “We 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.”
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 we Katrina and I don't talk any more. We haven't spoken for many years. But the mutual respect remains. I wish her well always. There is no other way one can wish for her.