x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Katrina Kaif: I am a determined person by nature

The Bollywood star maintains her chilly reputation in a brief interview for the premiere of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan in Abu Dhabi.

From left, the actors Imran Khan, Katrina Kaif and Ali Zafar, and the director Ali Abbas Zafar, who were in Abu Dhabi for the premiere of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan.
From left, the actors Imran Khan, Katrina Kaif and Ali Zafar, and the director Ali Abbas Zafar, who were in Abu Dhabi for the premiere of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan.

There are many epithets used to describe Katrina Kaif: glamorous is one, beautiful another. More often than not, it's also the word diva.

The 27-year-old actress, who was in Abu Dhabi last week for the premiere of her latest release Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, is one of the biggest bankrolling female stars in Bollywood. If the rumours are to be believed, she has a similar-sized ego to boot.

The signs do not bode well. A 20-minute interview slot that was unexpectedly shortened to 10 ends up being cut short by a hovering minder after six minutes and 30 seconds.

Tasked with giving interviews at the Hilton Hotel on the Corniche with her co-stars Imran Khan and Ali Zafar, ahead of what would be a mobbed premiere at Marina Mall on Wednesday night, Kaif was poured into a skintight royal blue Rocky S dress paired with grey Mary Janes. Her expression could best be described as "studied indifference".

Yet if she has a difficult relationship with the press, it is not without reason.

Kaif, brought up by her British mother Susanna Turcotte (who had divorced her Indian Kashmiri father, Mohammed Kaif), began modelling in London at the age of 14, where she was spotted by the filmmaker Kaisad Gustad.

He cast her in his 2003 film Boom and she moved to Mumbai to continue acting. However, her first attempts to break into the industry were widely panned for her poor grasp of Hindi.

Undeterred, Kaif had intensive language lessons. She says now: "At the beginning my Hindi did need improvement but I did something about it. I am a determined person by nature. I don't think people thought I would succeed or remain in the industry so for me today, being a part of it and doing the work I'm doing, I am extremely elated."

She says dealing with the criticism was "not hard".

"It would probably be hard for a person who felt they deserved it or that it was their right," she says. "For me I came in as a complete outsider and made my place step by step. It was a risk and a gamble which paid off."

Kaif, one of eight sisters, was born in Hong Kong in July 1984 and lived in Hawaii as a child. The family moved to London when she was a teenager and she was recruited by the Models One agency, then relocated to India three years later.

Her accent is an odd amalgamation of Indian, American and English but she says she feels more Indian: "I live and work in India and have found my identity from that side of me, so I think there is more of a sense of belonging."

It was her mother's charity work that took them across the globe. She currently runs an orphanage in Madurai, southern India, and is helping to build a school.

"Her work takes her to wherever there is a need. She is very happy; I guess that's her calling in life," says Kaif, who had a different calling. Modelling, she says, gave her the confidence to break into the film industry.

After Boom, she appeared in Sarkar in 2005 and then landed a major role in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya opposite Salman Khan, with whom she embarked on a year-long relationship.

She spent up to seven hours a day learning the classical dance kathak for the role. The film enjoyed moderate success, with the respected Indian film critic Taran Adarsh calling her a "complete revelation".

She had box office flops with Humko Deewana Kar Gaye opposite Akshay Kumar in 2006, Yuvraaj in 2008 and last year's Tees Maar Khan, although she fared better in romantic comedies such as Namastey London in 2007 and Singh is Kinng, which became the third highest-grossing Bollywood film of 2008.

But it was the political thriller Raajneeti last year that finally gave her credibility as a serious actress.

Her latest role in a Yash Raj Films production sees her as a wild hippy chick chosen as a suitable bride by Imran Khan's character for his brother, played by Ali Zafar. A comedy of errors then ensues as Kush, played by Khan, falls for her himself.

At a promotional junket to premiere the film in Abu Dhabi, the word "fun" gets bandied about a lot.

"We had a great time making fun of each other," says Zafar.

"I laughed and had fun all the way through," adds Khan.

But if there is a fun side to Kaif, she chooses not to show it. Her responses are clipped, rehearsed and delivered with a degree of ennui which has earned her a reputation for being frosty. She is utterly polite, and completely guarded.

A team of make-up artists and hair stylists fusses over her to ensure not a strand of that sleek mane is out of place, or to touch up her favoured Armani foundation and Mac Ample Pink lipgloss.

"She is not very friendly," whispers one underling, "but she is very hard-working."

Kaif admits she has little in common with her latest character, who favours tattered jeans and puffs on a bidi, but welcomes the break from "clichéd" roles for women in Indian cinema: "She is very carefree and bohemian. I don't know if I am like that. I would like to think I am more practical and slightly less erratic."

The role was written with her in mind by her friend, the director Ali Abbas Zafar, who said it would "change the way she was perceived by the audience".

With the same sense of method acting she has exhibited in other roles (she learnt to ride a motorcycle for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), she took guitar lessons from her co-star, the singer-turned-actor also called Ali Zafar, for a rock number in the film. "I have learnt a bit but I still have a long way to go," she says.

She expects to be in Abu Dhabi a lot more as the new face of Etihad Airways.

"It is a very special city to me," says Kaif. "Every time I come it seems there is so much growth and improvement. It is an amazing place."

She is currently filming Ek Tha Tiger with Khan, who is still a friend despite their split in 2009. In January next year, she begins her first project with Bollywood's biggest star of the moment, Shah Rukh Khan, in a so-far untitled film.

We have been warned not to ask personal questions but Kaif has made no bones about the fact she would like to settle down and have a family, so I dare to ask if there is any romance on the horizon.

Kaif stays cool and composed: "Not yet, unfortunately, but who knows the future? Maybe. I don't know if you really enjoy being single but that is the way of life. Some day it will happen."


Mere Brother Ki Dulhan is now showing in the UAE