View From The Top | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Verve People
June 12, 2013

View From The Top

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographed by Atul Kasbekar. Styling by Nirali Mehta.

Today, one of the highest paid actresses in Bollywood, Katrina Kaif is sitting pretty with coveted brand endorsements, big-budget films and foot-stomping item songs in her kitty, as she fuels many fantasies. Post Chikni chameli, in early 2012, she sizzled across the silver screen in her sensuous number Ishq shava in Yash Chopra’s last magnum opus, Jab Tak Hain Jaan. The 29-year-old reel diva chats with Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena about the power and highs of being in the movies

  • Katrina Kaif, Bollywood Actress
  • Katrina Kaif, Bollywood Actress

We walk into Taj Lands End, a front office employee rushes up to inform us that her car has been spotted on the approach road to the property and we stop and decide to wait for her in the lobby that is swirling with visitors. A few minutes later, her night blue Audi Q7 Quattro powers to a smooth halt in front of the uniformed darwan. In one swift movement, Katrina Kaif emerges, her glares perched on her head. Heads turn at the superstar’s entrance, but within seconds we have taken the elevator up to the floor where the suite waits in readiness.

Verve stylist, Nirali Mehta and cover photographer, Atul Kasbekar, are deep in discussion when Katrina makes her entry. The next few minutes collapse into a whirligig of catching up as the two Ks – Kasbekar and Kaif – recall their first shoot together, one in which she had to almost live on, well, salads. Katrina asks for some coffee, sizes up the clothes options and then sits on the bed, all the while chatting 19 to the dozen. The waiter arrives bearing her preferred brew, and cup in hand she gets into shoot preparation mode with make-up artist, Subhash Vagal.

On a floor several levels below, in the huge hall that has been earmarked and cordoned off for the Verve shoot, the scene has already been set for the action to begin. By now, Atul is in an intense discussion with his crew – that done with, we take a stroll in the courtyard outside, awaiting Katrina’s arrival.

Katrina, or Kat as she is fondly referred to by the tabloids, carries her star power with ease. Her hair is stylishly slicked back; make-up completely in place and her luminescent eyes take in the environment in an instant. Her porcelain-like impact is enhanced by her taut face and figure. On the ‘set’, she listens to what is needed, Atul’s camera gets into the act and Katrina, the superstar, comes alive, her interaction with the lens being viewed in utter concentration by the team. In between changes – unfussily she just moves across to a private corner of the hall to slip into the different looks – Katrina checks the ‘takes’ on the laptop, discussing each with us. Shunning any break, we shoot on till it is time to call it a wrap.

The next day, I walk into her home to find her completing some unexpected work that needs her attention. I spot the Katrina-inspired Barbie doll on the mantelpiece as I move to the dining table at the far end of the hall to give her the privacy her task requires. I am just finishing my cup of green tea, when she joins me and we retire to a small adjoining room to chat in peace. It takes very little prodding to guide her down the events of the last 12 months and the many memories of people, places and events that have shaped her into the superstar she is today.

Professionally, what made 2012 memorable was undoubtedly working with Yashji in Jab Tak Hain Jaan. I had gone for the premiere of Veer Zaara and had told the friends I saw it with that it was so beautiful, so romantic and that I wanted to be a part of something like that. This was way back in 2004 and a project like that was a distant possibility for me. I really wanted the experience of working with him. He was a very warm human being and remembered small, small things about every person. So Jab Tak Hain Jaan was the culmination of something I wanted badly. He had the uncanny ability to ‘see’ people. I still remember how on one occasion, he gave me an elaborate explanation of why I do not smile when people compliment me. He had also told me, ‘You like everything very simple, so you’re happiest when no one is talking about something too complex or when genuinely there is an easy vibe.’

When I look back at 2012 as a work year, the schedules were very hectic. We all work every day but when you are doing big films you feel the weight – even though it would sometimes appear like a party. I also did Ek Tha Tiger last year and it was a nice experience to work with one of my dearest friends, Kabir Khan. During New York we were all fairly newcomers and that was more easygoing. This was a big film with big locations and this was the first time Kabir was working with Salman Khan which put a lot of responsibility on him. Dhoom 3 also started in 2012. We have a lot left so I cannot speak of it as a past experience. You hear so much about Aamir Khan being a perfectionist. But as an actor, I found it easy to work with him. You completely feel a sense of acceptance and team spirit from him. There is no question of judgement and you are here on the set because you are the best person who could be standing here.

In my entire life – all the years I’ve been in this universe – without a shadow of a doubt, Salman has been the person who has definitely had the greatest influence on me. I wouldn’t specify his influence in terms of this or that. It is just that we became friends and I got to know his family well when I was only 17. And due to the time that those years had in my life and the fact that it was the early stage of my career, he influenced me a lot. He is a very strong person; he has a lot of opinions and an interesting view and outlook on life.

Being a superstar has not really changed me. It’s probably because of the way I have grown up – I was never in one country for too long, so one always had the sense that today is the day and what you do today matters. I don’t have a sense of recalling the past or looking too far into the future. I don’t ever wake up feeling that I am a huge star. I see each day as one unit. My thought process begins and ends with the day. My success was also achieved one film at a time – small steps that all added up to a wonderful acceptance from the audience which happened over a few years. People didn’t say overnight, ‘Wow, I was it!’ One deals with the stress of working every day for 15, 16, 17, 18 hours. You try and do the best job you can and don’t have much time to sit and pat yourself on the back.

I would not be able to define my star power as I do not know what that means. For me, if you had to simplify it to what worked for me, I would say it has been the relatable or approachable factor with the audience. Without that acceptance a star does not exist. I have always been very simple, right from my first film, from my characters, to the way I have been styled or dressed. So, there has always been some connect on some level with the average person.

When a star signs a brand, I think you have the responsibility to make sure it’s a good product. You should believe in the product you are endorsing. I’m fortunate that the brands I get offered are good products that I have known from childhood so I am never short-selling my audience. I have confidence in the products as these are all brands that I would buy.

Sometimes you will be different, at other times you will not. It is not easy to find a good script from a good production house with a strong character that you have not played before. I’ve never consciously moved into any zone to decide on my role. I’ve chosen films depending on what interested me at the moment. For instance, I thought Dhoom 3 was a huge franchise. It is an attempt at a different kind of dancing and action. Whether we can pull off the difference, I do not know but at least the attempt is there. I felt Knight And Day was a really fun film and after doing Ek Tha Tiger and Jab Tak Hain Jaan, I felt it was okay to do an easy kind of rom-com.

As far as my item numbers are concerned, I do not consider Sheila ki jawaani or Ishq shava as one because both were my films and the songs stemmed from the girl’s character. They were both very well picturised in different ways. Chikni chameli came out of a personal relationship with Karan Johar and the director Karan Malhotra had an interesting vision. He knew what he wanted from the song and I felt very secure under his guidance.

If it is your opinion that my sex appeal is a combination of innocence and sensuality, then we can work on that premise. I think it’s a combination of physicality in the way God made me and my personality. When people see me, what they perceive me to be, that’s not what my personality is. That’s where the contradiction comes across. It’s just the contrast of physicality and personality.

My private persona is not completely different from how the public sees me. I believe in simplicity in life. I think that what is personal should be kept personal and guarded. This is the entertainment industry. We are here to entertain, make movies. Our personal lives should not be the entertainment. That is why I would prefer not to – and I don’t like to – speak on personal matters pertaining to other people.

I think you should be an entertainer; your life should not be entertainment for the public. And when you are with people you trust, in your comfort zone, your personality comes out more.

Whether we have made the correct choices or not is my – and perhaps your – question for a lifetime. Sometimes you come to know if your choice was right, at others you don’t. Sometimes you can listen to your instinct, or your heart as they say, but sometimes even if you’re trying to listen to your instinct or your heart, you drown them out if it’s not what you want to believe.

My life is not ‘entertainment’. I will never accept criticism of my personal life. In my role as an entertainer, people have a right to judge me but the criticism must stop there. How can people write personal comments about you or your personal lives? Nobody except the people involved or your family know what has actually happened. I will never judge another person about his personal life. I will judge people on their work.

I wear what I’m most comfortable in. I dress up when I have to be glamorous or I have to make a statement. But I think people should be observing me and not my clothes. I’m not a fashion leader; I’m not supposed to be wearing the latest trends. It’s my job to look presentable and nice but that doesn’t mean I have to be making a fashion statement every time I step out of the house.

My greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. I can understand things if they are explained to me in simple, clear terms. If I understand something, I’ll get it right. When I don’t, I can get stuck. By understand it, I mean whether I’ve got what you’re trying to say to me. I guess some people can just go ahead and execute it. For me, I need to understand it – even if it’s on a basic level. So, even if I am supposed to be a naïve, simple, sweet girl, I have to get it. If it’s something I can’t understand it can be a problem.

It isn’t easy to cope with it – the pressure to be a star, the pressure to look good. We give too much importance to looks. I think you need to be clear and not take it too seriously. You have to realise that all of this is transient. It is here today, gone tomorrow. So, I don’t feel the pressure that I have to be here all the time and that I have to be the best. I aim for the best but it is not always in your control and it does not make sense to beat your head against the wall about what is going to happen. You must believe, but you have to be flexible about what life is going to give you.

Last year was significant because one of my sisters had a baby and two of them got engaged. We are seven sisters in all – it is a family driven by women. Not having a father around built in me a sense of responsibility. I feel that I have to care for and provide for anything that my family needs. And I have learnt a lot from my mother. She has always believed that you cannot judge anyone personally. I have learnt that lesson from her.

All human beings love appreciation. I am no different, I do too. It could be in the form of verbal, box-office success, director or audience appreciation, colleagues’ praise or even awards. If you get it it’s great, but if you don’t, I think it is okay – there are bound to be be other occasions and awards!

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