India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
May 20, 2006

Leading Lady Of The Ramp

Text by Shirin Mehta. Photographs by Prasad Naik. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani. Make-up and hair by Subhash Vagal

Whoever said that the era of the supermodel is dead, had not reckoned with Katrina Kaif’s presence on the ramp, says Verve

She’s got it, and how….There is no denying that fact. If we had to pick the model of the moment, yes, it would be Katrina Kaif – her ramp sway intact, her presence at the recently concluded Fashion Week, wolf whistle perfect, grabbing attention each time that she touched her pretty toe to the ramp, mostly in show-stopper attire, calculated to deliver a larger than life statement on the designer. She was Fashion Week’s hottest presence, the designers’ hottest property. Add to that, beau and Bollywood superstar, Salman Khan’s unabashed applause from the front rows, at her shows. This is fashion hyperbole at its best. Though, in our opinion, it really did not need the endorsement of a superstar to establish Kaif as the only supermodel sashaying the ramp, today.

With truely cinematic paradox, contrast this, soon after, with front-page photographs, in the dailies, of a downcast, salwar-clad Kaif (she is almost more appealing in subdued attire as at her supercharged fashion appearances), awaiting Khan’s release from Jodhpur Central Jail after his conviction in a poaching case, an image that the entire country sympathised with. And while her newly-released film, Humko Deewana Kar Gaye, where she appears for the first time in a leading role, can be relegated to inane hogwash, she has established some actor presence. Yes, Kaif is the woman of the moment, in more ways than one.

She arrives for the Verve shoot in street attire – muti-pocketed trousers and a cool tank top, stepping out from her dark-windowed, chauffeur-driven Honda SUV, looking very much the clean-faced, bright, pony-tailed, college-going kid. At five feet, six and a half inches, she is taller than you would have thought, though she brushes this observation away with a quick glance at her wedge heels that she never takes off for the rest of the day. She is certainly more breasty and hippy than the ramp reveals and than the average model, perhaps – ensconced in a perfect, real-life hour glass, the silhouette of the moment. Rounded is good and she carries off rounded to perfection. She is a strapping young lady, her big boned structure almost belying the gentle angles of her near angelic face. Tall enough to make ramp model, curvy enough to give Bollywood enough to hold on to – the face that has launched a myriad products is now poised to reposition herself, to make it Bollywood-big. And yet, for now, her biggest strength is that she remains the leading lady of the ramp.

In her comfort zone
At the moment, her attention is wavering between her insistently ringing mobile and her trusty iPod since she insists on hearing her own music, to work to. However, she doesn’t really know the names of the songs or where they are from as the Hindi tunes blare out. She has discovered her comfort zone, even as she is being made-up, coiffeured and styled into the cutting-edge, skirt-suited look of the moment that works so well for her. She is not happy with changing her hairstyle, with teasing her locks up in a styled bouffant. Again, she needs her comfort zone, her familiar tresses about the shoulders. But then, quiet asquiescence takes over and we pummel her into the image that we want created. It’s easy. She is a clotheshorse and things just wear well on her. She preens for the camera, emoting with it, and child-like running to see the images on the computer as they appear.

“I have a very strong fashion-related image, rather than just as an actress or model,” she says. She is clear about her style philosophy: “I do not feel that a person’s clothes should be noticed first. Your presence should speak, you should be noticed. And then, maybe 20 minutes later, people should notice your clothes, like ‘hey, that is a great shirt you are wearing’. I do not feel it necessary to dress in keeping with current taste and fashion…loud-loud things are not me. I am not hyperly talented putting together very creative outfits or styling myself. I do not wear a lot of accessories. I try to keep things feminine and appealing. Slightly sensuous works for me.” And so her wardrobe sumptuously hangs a myriad chiffon, knee-length dresses that she can wear anywhere. “I prefer skimming clothes rather than fitting clothes, so no one is going to stare.”

How does someone who admittedly hates to be noticed, who eschews attention and prefers to keep to herself, re-create herself into a very saleable, highly desirable brand? Where does her easy marketability come from? So, there are a million beautiful faces around and they drop constantly by the wayside. And, the era of the supermodel is long gone – remember? How does she score over a fabulously toned and tanned, painfully thin Ujjwala Raut showing off her curvy cleavage, so soon on the ramp after the birth of her first baby? Does Kaif take over from the Mehr Jesias, the Madhu Sapres, the Anna Bredemeyers of yore, or has she created her own niche? One that reaches out to an unsuspecting audience actually quite willing to be wooed, this time around, by a woman who seems mostly like the prettiest girl next door, capturing the senses with her very reality? Someone who, unlike the ‘Twiggy’ figures gone by, relays an almost attainable image. Or, a marriageable one, perhaps. In this era of information and reality shows, this is certainly a vote for verity.

Celebrity photographer, Atul Kasbekar, amongst the first to work with Kaif, remembers the time when, at a party he introduced her to veteran designer, Rohit Bal. “He just went nuts,” says Kasbekar. She is ethereally beautiful.” Not to be confused with cute or attractive, he cautions. “When you are shooting, some people just jump out at you and you can see from day one that this person is going to be a star. Katrina has that X-factor. Either you have it, or not. This is not something that you can develop.”

Kaif, converse to most, started her career with films, in Kaizad Gustad’s Boom and then travelled backwards, into modelling. Having lived and grown up in London, “Boom was not a career move – just something I did when I was very young. Modelling was what I wanted to do.” While the film bombed at the box office and received highly critical reviews, Kaif did the usual rounds of advertising agencies, with a portfolio of her photographs. “I started doing ads and it was only later that the shows started,” she remembers. “And that was the main thing for me. That’s when it all began…from city to city, the attention I got was so fast and I was still getting used to the Indian modelling scene.”

Memorability factor
“I do see myself as a brand. I do feel that I contribute something when I am signed by a brand. It isn’t like you can change the person and get the same result.” And while her face is her image, it is the memorability factor, as much as her features, that makes the mark and the difference. “I do work on brand building,” she admits. “I have worked hard every day for the last few years. Your image matters. Every ramp appearance, whether in Lucknow, Pune, Mumbai or Delhi, has mattered. It has all added up. I have tried consciously to do good ads and endorsements, to keep a hold on what is coming up and I have tried to stick to what is workable for me….” Back to the comfort zone, are we? “On the ramp, I am always projecting an image that has been created. In ad films, it is a very calculated process to come to what has to be achieved.”

Enthroned on the ramp, is it appropriate now for Kaif to re-brand herself and her image where already, she has started limiting her ramp shows to star entries for favoured designers and brands? Fashion and films, she discovers, have little parity: “Fashion presents you in a very different way. Movies are more the person that I am; fashion is when I turn on the ‘other’ side – playing on the image that I have created. For me, I use the inside of me when I am giving that shot. I have no tricks in the bag, no techniques I can use and so I use honesty. To do that you cannot be a fraud. If in this moment, this happens to me, to Katrina, how would I react? I have had a lot of work to do, I have not grown up watching Bollywood.”

Getting a grip on the language and training in Kathak have been some of her challenges. She has already amassed a little-realised and not very noticed body of work on celluloid – Telegu films like Malliswari and Pidugu, the doomed Boom, Maine Pyar Kyon Kiya, a cameo role in Sarkar. In the works is Partner, Namaste London and Jaya Bachchan’s original role in the new Sholay. She has also refused film offers, “Either I did not like what I got or felt that I was not ready.” Her very western, honey-coloured looks that distinguish her as a model, have so far worked against her here, where her roles were limited to the visitor-from-abroad variety. However, this is poised to change with Humko Deewana….

Of mixed parentage, Kaif pooh-poohs the story that she came to Mumbai in search of her father who absconded when Kaif was a child. “My Dad and Mom are divorced,” she states simply, a shadow crossing over her fine features, the hurt still apparent. “Mom is British, she lives in Chennai and I go often to visit her. My Dad is in America and I don’t meet him at all.” She has it down pat and would rather not say any more, except that she cannot help adding, “It is unfortunate for any child not to grow up with their parents. That is why I love India. The support system that you see in India, you never see anywhere else. This is just something that I wish I had but did not.”

Two years the face of Lakmé, Kaif may not have been the obvious choice for this cosmetic company. Would the Indian woman relate to her very different looks? Could the brand successfully absorb a face already known, a figure with a strong fashion image? “OK fine, let’s see,” she said to her detractors. “I had felt instinctively that it would work. Not confidently, but instinctively.” On hindsight, the strong fashion package that she came with has augmented the brand’s credibility as she walks the aisle at Lakmé’s fashion weeks, immediately recognisable. “We have four Lakmé faces,” says Lakmé’s Anil Chopra. “Each is unique and the distinctive looks appeal to different people. Katrina embodies the very classical, soft, beautiful looks that people can relate to and feel comfortable with. People can aspire to her and look up to her.”

Probe into Kaif’s personal life and she clamps up with, “My approach is that whatever is personal to me, I will not discuss. I try to lay down my guidelines because there are enough problems. It can get to a point where I have felt that I was not completely in control. I have been through a stage where I have been not in control of myself and my limits.” She will not discuss her relationship with Khan, merely philosophising, “Nobody can say what will happen tomorrow.” But the question that everyone is asking is whether the romance between Kaif and Khan will help her career more, or his. Her uber-clean, almost squeaky image will certainly impart a gentlemanly halo to the mercurial Khan. Her gentle looks and that imposing ‘reality’ rub off on his impending bad-boy front. To advantage. On the other hand, she may draw a little from his notoriety, from the fact that he is, not without reason, paparazzi fodder. The tabloids cried out even as he was led off to jail, ‘Where is Katrina?’ And there she appeared, surely, to public applause. She could turn out to be the saving grace. Khan may be rescued after all.

Surfing the web, you may or may not be surprised at the number of hits her name churns up, on sites like chalo.celebrity, apunkachoice, starswelove and so many more. You may or may not go catch her in her latest film. But, you know with certitude that you will never lose that image, imprinted in your memory, of Kaif walking down that catwalk, to the silent applause in your head.

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