New queen bee?

Rajiv Vijayakar speaks to the only actress currently giving Kareena Kapoor a run for her money — Katrina Kaif — on her spate of hit blockbusters, her growth as an actress and her experience with some of the heavyweights of Bollywood.

Screen siren: Katrina Kaif

The bimbette of Boom has transformed — and how!

Though her earlier films saw her essentially as a Barbie brand of eye candy, Katrina Kaif has moved fast since her debut with that Hinglish film in 2003 to become a frontline star today.

Her Hindi debut, in Sohail Khan’s Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya (2005), saw her override her Westernised features and British accent to show that she has what it takes to be a successful Hindi film heroine.

The association with Salman Khan may have helped her at best with a handful of assignments, but the actress has worked on all her weak areas (like diction) painstakingly, to emerge a winner. She is considered as Kareena Kapoor’s only rival at the top slot, with a better box office average than any star, Kareena included, in the last 25 years!

To chalk up names like David Dhawan, Ram Gopal Varma, Priyadarshan, Anees Bazmee, Rajkumar Santoshi, Prakash Jha, Subhash Ghai, Yash and Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, UTV, T-Series, Vipul Shah, Anil Sharma and Farah Khan in such a short span of time is no easy achievement, especially given her background.

Movies such as Namastey London (2007), New York (2009), Raajneeti (2010) and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011) have shown that Katrina has a lot of substance as well.

Khan-do attitude

In fact, the last film proved conclusively that she can carry a film on her slender shoulders. It is after this film that Yash Raj Films signed her on for three films, one each with the three reigning Khans — Salman Khan in the just-released blockbuster Ek Tha Tiger, Shah Rukh Khan in a directorial venture marking Yash Chopra’s return after eight years, and Aamir Khan in Dhoom:3.

Her sunny temperament and million-dollar smile could make your day. Katrina is the epitome of charm when we catch up with her at Yash Raj Studios, on the eve of the release of her latest film. Of late, Katrina has always stressed that she will do only substantial roles. Ask her about this and she says, “Ek Tha Tiger is a love story.

Kabir Khan, my director, is a trusted friend since the days of New York, in which he gave me one of my earliest dramatic roles. We have remained in touch since and this is a role stronger than the one I played in that film.

I am working with all the Khans now, but I would not do any of these films if my roles were not strong, just as I would not insist that every script revolves around me. And I choose my films now with a mix of my heart and brain and above all, my instinct. If I love it, I will do it, even if the commercial angle does not look that strong.”

About her action sequences in this film, she says, “I felt very safe doing them, thanks to the rehearsals. We rehearsed on location in Cuba and for me, these fight sequences were like dance numbers, except that the pace was much faster!”

Of course, Katrina loves her song and dance too. “I love our songs and the audiences really adore them. They are the greatest connection with the people. The response that music evokes is phenomenal and can sometimes equal a great performance, like in the case of Chikni chameli. That is why even Mashallah has helped the film’s appeal,” she says.

How was it working with Salman Khan for the first time after Yuvvraaj and the end of their romantic relationship? “Salman has not changed. He has always been the same and we remain great friends.

We have always been there for each other and nothing comes in the way of that. Since 2010, he’s become very big as a star, but personally he has not changed at all. It’s the circumstances around him that have changed — the way he is perceived and so on.”

What about the general opinion that he should now settle down in matrimony? “If he had found the right girl, he would have done so, right?” she counters with a smile, as she adds in a sweet but matter-of-fact tone, “Why should someone marry because others feel that he should, or because he is old enough to marry?”

Did she recommend Kabir Khan as a director, after New York, to Salman? Katrina surprisingly reveals that it was the other way round. Salman had watched a documentary done by Kabir even before he directed his first feature and when Katrina was in a dilemma about accepting New York, and had asked Salman for his opinion, he had told her to blindly go ahead when she had mentioned the director’s name.

She has sized up the three Khans clearly, even if she has not yet shot with Aamir Khan. “We have met on the sets, though. I think all three of them are complete professionals. Someone asked me what I think of the rivalry between them, but again, that’s a public perception created by the media. I do not think they look at each other that way.

And there must be something in them because of which they have ruled for 20 years, right?”

Why have none of the younger stars like Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan been able to make a dent in the reign of the Khans and also take on Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn? “I do not think anyone has an answer to that, and that’s the beauty of this industry, which is so unpredictable and where the possibilities are endless.” Diplomacy, too, has been clearly mastered by Ms Kaif.

As the outsider who has made it big, what is her own take on her success? “I don’t know,” she says with another dazzling smile. “Maybe it is hard work?”

Buzz was that she was very nervous on the sets of the Yash Chopra film. Was that because of Shah Rukh? “No, it was because I was working with Yash ji as a director and he is so senior in this field — he has been a director for more than 50 years!” she says.

“With Shah Rukh Khan, the intimidation level was perhaps less, because, I had not really watched the films that have made him what he is,” she adds candidly.

How does she respond to criticism as an actress? “Ummm…I have faced a lot of it and I do consider what is written about me.

But if I have done my best then I do not let negative reports bother me. If a journalist just wants to attack me, then I know I cannot change things and so there is no point in getting hassled anyway,” she smiles again.

Is she doing Raajneeti 2? “Prakash ji has narrated a terrific story idea to me,” she says. “I would really love to be a part of it.” For Katrina, a good script is one which is “never boring.”

She also feels that a good film happens, and can never be planned. “It’s about the story, how convinced and interested a director is about telling the story, and the team that he puts together to narrate it,” she says simply.

What is her take on other top actresses of today? The diplomacy goes up a notch as she replies, “It’s great that none of us are duplicates of the other and can all get equal chances to do great roles.”

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