An opinionated Katrina Kaif feels the media and the industry have a give and take relationship, doesn’t mind harmless speculations about her life.
You’ve done 18 films. Did Bollywood seem like a crazy place when you first entered?
Five years ago, most of the filmmakers I was working with in Bollywood would improvise on the spot, either writing the dialogues the night before or on the set. That was hard. But where I started out (with Telugu cinema), you had the dialogues and a bound script months in advance.
You were born in Hong Kong, grew up in England, first spotted in Hawaii, turned to modelling at 14... and now you’re probably the number one Bollywood heroine now. Did you know this was going to happen?
No. I’ve never made a plan for my life. I have just taken whatever opportunities have come and been very genuine with them.
Fourteen is a pretty early age to start working...
Because I started early, I feel that I have been working for so long. In my head, I think I’m 50.
Do you miss doing things that people your age would normally like to do?
When we shoot abroad, we just walk around the streets and eat at restaurants. It’s fun. Life is not that restrictive in Mumbai. I just don’t want people to judge me, if I’m tired or not having a good day.
Are there places in the city that you regularly frequent?
HT Café thinks that I visit Pali Village Café (laughs). I had gone there with Boney Kapoor’s son, Arjun, who’s getting into films soon. The part about how he was looking at me supportively and letting me talk was great (Laughs sarcastically). I don’t mind that kind of gossip, as long as people don’t invade your private space. In England, they camp outside your houses. If you’re a public figure, people have the right to speculate and gossip. Luckily, I think the only people who get those crowds outside their houses are Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. As long as they stay there, I’m fine.
What was the first Bollywood film you watched?
I saw my first Bollywood movie when I was 15 or 16 years old. But I will never tell anyone what that film was.
Was it Maine Pyar Kiya?
No. I watched that film one year after I joined the industry and I asked Salman (Khan), why are your eyes so big in the film? I used to wear that scarf and do the bunny-hop step to irritate him. (Laughs)
You started out with a movie called Malleswari. What was that?
It was a Telugu film. It just happened... and if you have that approach to life, it’s wonderful. Don’t have any blocks. Everyone on the set looked at me like I was an alien, I had no idea what they were saying, except I had a vague feeling that they didn’t like me much. I didn’t know why I was there, but it was okay.
How did it happen?
I was doing a lot of ads and was always a bigger size than most models. If most models are a UK size eight, I was always a UK size 10 or 12. In South India, they really liked that. (Laughs) I was wearing a tight dress and I was around a size 12, and it became a point of discussion because I looked really curvy. So I got lots of calls. They offered me the highest amount ever paid to any Hindi actor, and I hadn’t even done a Hindi film till then.
Seventy lakh is the amount on Wikipedia?
It was a lot of money for me also. I was like, yeah... why not. And I wanted to learn more about films. I was 17 years old and I didn’t even know where the camera was.
Were you a movie buff while growing up?
Yes, but I was more into MGM kind of films. Old classics were all that my mother allowed me to watch. I don’t even know the other films that came during the years I was growing up. Man of La Mancha was my favourite.
Did you study Bollywood films to get reference points?
I didn’t, because I think I was so different that if I had tried to emulate anybody, I would have fallen flat on my face.
So you’re working for a medium and the masses that you don’t understand yourself?
Who says I don’t understand them? I started working with all the established heroes and filmmakers. And I listened for countless hours, because I usually have less dialogues and more time.
What according to you could make a commercially successful Bollywood film?
It’s an instinct; how can an instinct have logic? I’ve made slightly different choices, but I have not made them trying to change my agenda. I still want to do commercially successful films. I am not trying to change my image by doing Raajneeti.
The experience of working in a Raj Kanwar movie would not be the same as working with Kabir Khan?
Raj Kanwar taught me the basics of how to face the camera. Had I not done Humko Deewana Kar Gaye... I would have had a much rougher journey. When Kabir Khan came into my life, I had already formed my opinions. Yes, he gave me a wonderful script and character, but he also let me be. Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar and Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) feel he is one of the best directors for an actor today.
Is your sister making an entry into films too?
Not right now. It’s a very intoxicating place and I don’t think she is ready to come here yet. I would like her to be where she belongs, and not necessarily follow the path that I have chosen.
Would you defend plagiarism?
I don't think they (Bollywood) copies anything. You can take that up with the directors, not me.
‘I thought New York was too niche, and Ajab may not click’
Is it scary when you don’t know what you’re going to do on one given day?
It’s terrifying. Last year, I was really scared because I thought New York was too niche, and that Ajab... just might not click. I think Ajab… is one of my greatest films. It’s one film that has helped me the most as a person though.
‘I realised the film industry is a place where you need to work hard’
I think my work ethic came from my first few South Indian films. I remember fooling around on the sets of Malleswari and Venkatesh told me I needed to concentrate. He used to correct me like a child. Then I realised the film industry is a place where you have to be very hardworking and attentive. Then, the 10,000 films I did with Akshay (Kumar) definitely taught me lots. Anil Kapoor was also a big influence professionally. We’ve worked together on five films—Humko Deewana Kar Gaye, Welcome, Race, Yuvvraj and one more. These are really hardworking people. I think I set good habits.
‘People thought of me as a doll’
Initially, did people think of you as a callow girl trying to make it big in Bollywood?
People thought of me as a doll. Then I entered films and had a Barbie doll made after me. I have not tried to change that perception or fight it. It’s wonderful in a way.
‘Multiplex culture in India is fairly small’
You had a stream of commercial successes one after the other. Did you know what you were doing right?
I think the type of films I did appealed to the masses. The multiplex culture is fairly small. It has boomed in the last three years. A lot of people talk about how cinema is changing and you will see different kinds of films. Yes, but just look at the big successes of last year. 3 Idiots was a good film. But the other big films were Wanted and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani.
‘Moral police is my new word’
Moral police is my new word. I am very against the media doing moral policing, giving opinions on actor’s lives. Media should not become moral police, they should just report.
'If I live my life under the pressure of the media, then that is my weakness'
Do you count speculation as a professional hazard?
This job gives me far more than it takes from me. If I choose to live my life under the pressure of the media... then that is my weakness. The media has always been a part of this industry. The media and actors have a give and take relationship. They speculate on our personal lives and people see our faces and want to see our films. It’s a natural process.
How hard is it for you to mug Hindi dialogues?
I have an impeccable memory and I can learn dialogues in any language in 20 minutes; including Telugu and Malayalam. In South Indian films, I had to be told what the words meant, but not in Hindi films anymore. I read the Devnagari script very well now. Though Malayalam was really tough.