With five box-office hits
in a year, Katrina Kaif has wowed both Bollywood and the
audience. Derek Bose on the actor
A leading international men’s magazine, FHM has ranked Katrina
No 1 among the world’s 100 Sexiest Women
should make a film on Katrina Kaif — the British girl
who came in from the cold and within a couple of years, has
emerged as the hottest and the highest paid heroine of Hindi
cinema. The film could well be called Luck By Chance,
only that the title has already been taken by Zoya Akhtar, who
made her directorial debut with brother Farhan Akhtar as the
hero. Farhan plays a wannabe star, who lands in Mumbai to
discover that more than merit or hard work, it is plain luck
that determines success in Bollywood.
success story is scripted along similar lines. Born in Hong Kong
(of a Kashmiri father and British mother) and raised in London,
she landed in Mumbai in 2003 at the age of 19, got noticed by
fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar for a glamour shoot, and
ended up with her first role in a Hindi film — as Popdi
Chinchpokli in Kaizad Gustad’s Boom. The film bombed
and Katrina disappeared down South doing Malayalam and Telugu
films. After a couple of years she resurfaced in Bollywood along
side Akshay Kumar in Namastey London, a re-jig of Manoj
Kumar’s yesteryear hit, Purab Aur Paschim. Next, she is
Priya in Partner, Sanjana in Welcome, Sophia in Race,
Sonia in Singh is Kiing, Anushka in Yuvvraaaj`85
Today, she is everywhere.
So what is it that
Bollywood directors find so special about Katrina? A lot,
actually. One, she has the height. Few Hindi film heroines (and
leading men) can measure up to that 5’ 9" inch frame.
Two, she has a flawless peaches and cream complexion and skin.
Three, no Indian speaks Hindi the way she does. Four, she has
certain obvious limitations as an actress because she is neither
trained nor blessed with the essential skills of performing for
the camera. Five, she is no classical beauty, even in the
limited Bollywood sense. In fact, her big-boned structure, the
expressionless gaze and certain trademark mannerisms betray a
marked absence of sex appeal. Yet, she has become the heroine
most in demand and is being teamed with almost all top -ranking
heroes. What’s even more incredible is that she is turning out
one hit after another with unfailing regularity.
The miracle does
not end here. Katrina Kaif has just been voted as the Sexiest
Asian, the Most Photographed Woman in India and the "Most
Searched" Indian on Google. A leading international men’s
magazine, FHM ranks her No 1 among the world’s 100
Sexiest Women. She is the current Female Style Icon for IIFA and
declared the Best British-Indian Actor by the Zee Cine Awards of
2008. Besides, she endorses countless consumer brands and beauty
products, makes public interest appeals on TV, inaugurates
health spas and gyms and has an opinion on everything from
cooking to cricket to fitness to underage driving. And funnily
enough, she is being heard.
Katrina's personality has innocence.
Her face reflects her honesty.
— Prakash Jha Director, Rajneeti
One way of making
sense of this euphoria is to position Katrina vis-`E0-vis other
leading ladies of Bollywood. She came in at a time when the
heroines who mattered most were Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and
Rani Mukherji and to a lesser extent, we had Kareena Kapoor,
Bipasha Basu and Priyanka Chopra.
Of the first
three, Aishwarya was settling down and had declared that family
comes before career in her life. Preity, too, had cut down
considerably on work and Rani, after suffering several career
setbacks, suddenly found herself almost jobless. Among the
latter three, Bipasha was the first to turn selective and
pricey. Kareena and Priyanka could have capitalised on the
situation, but an inconsistent box-office run, together with
over-exposure and an unrealistic price tag proved to be their
undoing. That opened the doors for rank newcomers like Deepika
Padukone and Mugdha Godse. Katrina could get in edgeways because
she had some experience (mainly in films like Malliswari,
Allari Pidugu and Balram vs Tharadas down South), was
neither choosy nor demanding and compared to Kareena or Priyanka,
was under-exposed in Bollywood. Most important, she met the
crucial need of our ageing heroes to be paired with a
refreshingly young romantic foil. Clearly, she was at the right
place at the right time.
She is a director’s actor, professional
and punctual.— Anees Bazmee Director, Welcome & Singh Is Kinng
The other and more
reasonable way of explaining the Katrina phenomenon is to study
her work. Limited as it may be, the film that brought her
recognition for first time was David Dhawan’s Maine Pyar
Kyun Kiya. The role of a Sonia, Salman Khan’s love
interest, got her the Stardust Breakthrough Performance Award in
2006. The following year, she had four releases, beginning Namastey
London. From Jazz, the NRI wife who cannot adjust to the
ways of her desi husband (Akshay), she showed up in a bit
role in Dharmendra’s home production, Apne, then moved
on to be paired with Govinda (opposite Salman Khan-Lara Dutta)
in Dhawan’s Partner and finally, was back to marrying
Akshay in Anees Bazmi’s hilarious crime caper, Welcome.
In 2008 also,
Katrina had four films: Abbas-Mastan’s Race in which
she was Sophia, Saif Ali Khan’s secretary who pines for him;
Anees Bazmi’s Singh Is Kiing where yet again, she ended
up marrying Akshay; Atul Agnihotri’s Hello with an
inconsequential role; and lately, Subhash Ghai’s grand and
opulent Yuvvraaj, in which she played the cello player,
Salman is smitten with. Awaiting release is Kabir Khan’s New
York, an action thriller revolving around three Indian
friends caught in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in
the US. Katrina plays one of the friends, the other two being
John Abraham and Neil Nitin Mukesh.
There are of
course, several other projects on the floor, such as Ajab
Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Blue, De Dhana Dhan, Rajneeti, Rave,
Party and so on, all of them reinforcing the stereotype she
has projected so far — a vulnerable upper-class westernised
woman, answering to names like Sonia, Sanjana, Sophia`85 and
landing a simpleton from India. This is the character Katrina
has come to be associated with and it is out of this
audience-identification that Katrina has created a niche for
are written for her and more often than not, the setting is a
foreign country so as to both complement her looks and justify
her character. This explains why her films, despite all the
hilarity, fun and games, bear a ring of truth about them and are
finding acceptance with audiences.
Can Katrina do a
Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met? Maybe not. Can she do a
Bipasha Basu in Corporate or say, Priyanka Chopra in Fashion?
Sure, she can. Can she do a Mallika Sherawat or Rakhi Sawant?
She will not. Can she do Asin in Ghajini or Deepika
Padukone in Om Shanti Om and Chandni Chowk to China
Town? Of course, she can. And what’s more, she should be
able to pull off these parts brilliantly. Obviously, she has yet
to perform to potential. So while it would appear that she is
cautiously feeling her way about, one fact that has escaped
critics and viewers alike (as far as Katrina is concerned) is
that Bollywood has little use for heroines these days. Just
about any glam girl will do. Nobody is making any demands on an
actress’s emoting skills, screen presence, physical
attributes, her ability to slip into the skin of a character,
even diction. For what matters to every producer ultimately, is
his film being "packaged" in a manner that it is able
reach the maximum number of the markets worldwide.
Among the top
Bollywood heroines currently in circulation, Katrina undoubtedly
provides the best packaging in marketing terms. Her appearance
on screen, for whatever duration it might be, automatically
gives a Hindi film the much-desired international look. This is
crucial for our filmmakers in their eagerness to go global. They
know that distributors and exhibitors in the West instinctively
find a connection with the fair-skinned, Caucasian presence in
films. So it is not as though just Katrina is on a success trip
by chance. Bollywood has also got lucky finding her.
doing substantial roles now’
Katrina speaks about
her forthcoming films and the issues close to her heart
Katrina Kaif in Singh is Kinng
You finally find
yourself in the big league with so many hits.
I have been lucky
for the last year or so with all my films Namastey London
Partner, Welcome, Race and Singh Is Kinng becoming
hits. It gives immense satisfaction but I still feel there’s a
lot to learn. I count myself among the new generation of actors
and I have a lot to give.
Since you are in
the top league now, would you become choosy?
I don’t want to
be choosy but certainly I am looking for variety. My next few
films see me in different roles and none have any similarity.
Even my role in Race had shades of grey and I enjoyed
that. It gives a lot of satisfaction as an actor.
I have Raj Kumar
Santoshi’s Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani in which I am
paired opposite Ranbir Kapoor. Then there is Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti,
Blue, De Dhana Dhan and a film with Yash Raj Banner being
produced by Aditya Chopra and directed by Kabir Khan.
There are rumours
that you are emulating Sonia Gandhi in Rajneeti.
I am flattered by
the comparison, no doubt. She is definitely a powerful person
but I’m not emulating her.
Tell us about your
role in Rajneeti.
When Prakash ji
told me the story there was instant response from me and I was
blown away by the story. I think it is a fantastic script. As
this is political film, I did a lot of research on how
politicians go about the process of campaigning, how they
deliver speeches before crowds of thousands, and how they grow
into powerful orators.
You are sans
makeup and in simple cotton sarees in this film. This is quite
different from your glamourous image.
I have got to
another level with this film. People will now know that I can do
other type of films as well. I have been part of successful
films and now I’m glad I’m doing substantial roles. I am so
pleased that I can finally prove those people wrong who has
branded me as a glamourous doll.
You have worked
with most of the established directors; will you work with new
The first thing
that I see before choosing a film is definitely the director. If
a new person comes to me with a script and says ‘let’s go
for it’, I should be really willing to take risks to agree and
I guess that will also happen sometime. Though working with new
directors is risky. A right director is my priority not an
exciting script. If a director who can’t pull off a good
script comes up to me with a fantastic script and I love it, it
is still a meaningless and futile exercise to go ahead with the
film. For me, who directs the film is of utmost importance.