KARACHI: A decade ago, it would have been unimaginable for an actor with a pronounced British accent who barely spoke Hindi to make it big in Bollywood.
But that was before Katrina Kaif arrived on the scene. The 25-year-old has carved a niche for herself in an industry which is usually not very forgiving of upcoming actors, that too without any connections in Bollywood. Kaif came to India as a 17-yearold. Born to a Kashmiri father and a British mother, she had lived in the US and the UK, and is known to be very close to her sisters and mother.
She made her debut in Kaizad Gustad’s Boom in 2003, a performance that went unnoticed. It was only when she appeared in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya two years later with then boyfriend Salman Khan that Bollywood took note. But the critics still panned her, describing her acting as stunted and her accent a hindrance. “There is no place for any negativity in my life,” says Kaif, when asked about those early days. “Everyone has a destiny and I got what was written in mine.”
Industry bigwigs like filmmaker Prakash Jha say it would be wrong to ascribe Kaif’s success today to mere destiny. “Katrina is where she is today because of only one thing - her dedication. She drove for three hours to come back to the dubbing studio because she felt she had pronounced a word wrongly. One word. And then she drove back to catch a flight,” says Jha, who directed Kaif in her latest project Rajneeti.
From a wannabe actor to the leading lady with the Midas touch, Kaif has come a long way. Producers are lining up to sign the one actress who has been fairly consistent with blockbuster hits. “Out of her 14 films, she has delivered 11 hits. That’s a tremendous record for any actor. Even in films which didn’t do well, she was appreciated,” says trade analyst Vajir Singh.
As for her accent and difficulty with Hindi diction, Kaif isn’t too worried. “I had an accent when I came into the industry, I have one now and will always have one,” says the actor. “I don’t think it has stopped me from doing the kind of films I have done.” It doesn’t seem to have deterred the audiences either.
Kaif is today one of Bollywood’s highest paid actors, comparing with the likes of Kareena Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, but has given more hits than the other two. Her last two outings, New York and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani struck gold at the box-office, as did films Welcome and Singh is King. Kaif was also the most searched for Indian celebrity on Google last year and street hawkers still stock up on her posters.
“Katrina is the one actor whose negatives have actually turned out to be positives for her - her accent makes her seem exotic to Indian audiences, and that is why she has the number of followers she does,” says Singh. Trade analysts feel the actor is now at a stage in her career where she can cement her number one position in Bollywood - if she impresses audiences in Rajneeti.
Kaif is gearing up for what many say is her toughest role yet, that of an up-and-coming politician in Prakash Jha’s film. Her turn as Indu Prakash is drawing comparisons with the Congress party’s Italian-born president Sonia Gandhi. And though she insists there is no similarity, one can’t help notice that Kaif herself is a Bollywood outsider who was never given any chance of succeeding.
She still is nonchalant about her unexpected success in the industry. “I never planned it this way, but even then you can’t walk around telling yourself that you are successful, because that would just mess with your head.”