Katrina Kaif seems a tad tired as she winds up the last of the media interviews for the day. Part of the promotions for her film Baar Baar Dekho at Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions office on the second floor of a high-rise in Andheri, western Mumbai, she has, according to her manager Nisha, been at it since early morning. I glance at my watch. It’s nearing 11pm.
As the last of the mediapersons prepare to leave, the model-turned-actor turns to me. ‘Come,’ she says. ‘Let’s go.’
A meticulous and extremely organised actor, she is trying to save time and, keen to do the exclusive interview for Friday, agrees to talk while travelling. ‘We can start the interview while we are in the lift itself,’ she says, with a smile. Sporting a chic, maroon-black Versace mini dress teamed with a pair of block-heeled boots, the star looks a picture of elegance and style.
Even as the lift doors open on the ground floor of the building, her grey Audi smoothly drives to a halt near the entrance. As the car glides into the crowded main road currently in the grip of the festive fervour of the 10-day Hindu festival Ganesh Chaturthi, Katrina settles into the comfortable leather seat and leans back contentedly, clearly happy to have called it a day.
She has been flitting across cities and from one television studio to another, her schedule packed with promotional tours that have become part of a Bollywood film’s pre-release publicity process.
‘It’s been extremely tiring and hectic,’ the Dhoom 3 actor says. ‘But then you put so much work into a film, more than a year of hard work, so when the time comes for the results to start appearing you obviously want to give it the best chance.
‘It’s quite like having a baby,’ says the 33-year-old, flicking her not-quite-shoulder-length curls with a perfectly manicured hand. The passion to make this film a success is clear on Katrina’s face. Behind the softly blushed cheeks and nude pink glossy lips, there is a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that readily comes to the fore.
One of Bollywood’s top heroines, she’s ruled the roost for over a decade, ever since she first burst on to the scene in 2003 with Boom. Although Boom bombed at the box office, she came back two years later in 2005 opposite Bollywood’s superstar Salman Khan in the runaway hit Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya. She hasn’t looked back since.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Ek Tha Tiger, Dhoom 3 and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan were a few of the big grossers before the Hong Kong-born Katrina hit a hurdle when Phantom (2015) and this year’s Fitoor – her two releases prior to Baar Baar Dekho – failed at the box office.
That explains the passion that’s driving her in this film. ‘Baar Baar Dekho is very important for me,’ she says without mincing words. ‘The stakes are huge with this film.’
Starring opposite Sidharth Malhotra in a love story told through flashbacks, the award-winning star is quick to add: ‘For me every film is equally important but more so this particular film.’
She admits her last film Fitoor ‘was not very well received at the box office. That was truly heartbreaking.’
It’s for that reason that this movie is ‘all the more important to me – to come with a strong film that gets audiences’ love, not necessarily the box office.’ Going against the grain of the Bollywood stereotype where heroines only romance actors older than them, Katrina did not think twice of pairing up with Aditya Roy Kapur who was two years her junior, in Fitoor. Now she has done it again. Sidharth Malhotra, her hero in Baar Baar Dekho, is also two years younger to her.
‘Age is not a factor. I believe that an actor is an actor, their contribution and talent is what matters,’ says Katrina, who is one of the highest-paid actresses in India.
‘I’ve worked with people who are 20 years older than me, I’ve worked with those the same age as I am, and I’ve worked with people who are a few years younger than me. Age doesn’t have any relevance. I believe it’s about the passion you bring to the project. You want the person to be as dedicated as you are, to be as committed as you are.’
So does she think the industry has changed a lot over the decade she’s been here?
She nods. ‘It’s changed in a big way. It’s constantly evolving and adapting.’
A British national, Katrina was relatively unknown in Bollywood circles when she made an entry, but her good looks and passion for acting took her swiftly to the top of the popularity charts. From Sarkar and Jab Thak Hai Jaan to Partner and Namastey London, among many others, Katrina quickly made a mark in filmdom, notching up a repertoire of 34 films – including a few regional ones – in just 13 years in the industry.
However, over the past few years she hasn’t signed up for many films.
‘In the past two years I’ve had fewer releases, only Bang Bang and Fitoor,’ she admits. But she makes it clear that it was a conscious decision to take it easy ‘because of certain priorities’ in her life.
‘My priorities were other things. Everyone has the right to focus on different things and I decided to take my professional life a bit easy,’ she says.
Are the ‘different things’ she is referring to her high-profile breakup from actor Ranbir Kapoor after six years of courtship?
The stunning actor pauses for a moment, choosing her words carefully. ‘There are moments in one’s life where things can’t be tougher. But I take those moments as a challenge.’
Turmoil in personal life, she says, ‘forces you to pull yourself together and stand up quicker. You want to show your best face to the world.’
So has she bounced back now?
‘If you’re asking me if there is any person in my life, the answer is a definite no,’ she says, bracing herself in her seat as the car comes to a halt at a traffic light.
‘Also, it’s not about bouncing back and going anywhere. It’s about wanting to be the best in life… to do your best at any job no matter how you may feel personally. For instance, if you are doing an interview, you try and make it entertaining and funny; if on a television show you give some moments that the audience will enjoy. It’s about being there and trying to contribute.’
Does she think – as has been fiercely debated in online chat rooms – that actresses ride a sympathy wave after a break-up?
‘I don’t think anyone gets sympathy in a break-up. I think break-ups are tragic, painful. The end of any relationship is a devastating time for everyone involved.’
With so much going on in her personal and professional life, does she have a mantra to stay calm and in control?
‘There’s not much that you can do,’ she says. ‘For me, the gym is the great stress buster – just to take my mind off issues. It helps me take time off and not think or focus on them. But honestly you can’t really avoid the stressors – they’re in your thoughts, on your mind… you cannot run away from them. You have to just wait until you overcome it.
‘Prayers too help,’ she continues. ‘Yes, you question yourself a lot: Did I do the right thing? I could have worked harder. I could have done this or that better. Eventually it is out of your hands,’
Is there anything that she would like to change in her life?
‘Probably it would be my habit of stressing a lot,’ she says, looking out at the city racing past her window. After a short pause she continues: ‘But all that stress is important because it pushes you, motivates you to work harder and work better; though it is also very tiring and time-consuming, and sometimes probably there are better ways to deal with things rather than taking tension. Sometimes we must just let things go.’ Does she let her hair down often? ‘Oh yes. Everyone has different aspects to their personality. There’s definitely a quirky side to me,’ she admits with a guffaw.
‘For instance, in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, my friend Ali Zafar had tried to use that aspect of my personality a lot because he knew me quite well from the film New York. That’s the side of me he felt people had not seen so he actually developed his character the way we are together, the way we joke and hang around with each other.’
Katrina is known to be a fitness addict and is extremely disciplined about her workouts. Her toned abs are the talk of tinsel town. ‘It takes a lot of discipline, unless like some people you have a naturally gifted physique and an athletic body,’ she says. ‘I have to work at maintaining my body, particularly if there’s a film that requires a certain kind of a look. I dedicate time to it.
‘You have to be regular with your workout, whatever fitness regime you choose. Just going for a leisurely walk is not enough and it won’t show any difference in your physique.’
Diet plays a huge part too, she says. ‘If you are cheating on your diet, then you are only cheating yourself. You have to be realistic about your goals. You have to be honest about what you want to achieve. Follow your diet, be strict, give yourself a timeline and adhere to it.’
For Baar Baar Dekho, Katrina had to tap into a lot of that diligence.
‘For a particular portion in the film, Nitya [director Nitya Mehra who was assistant director of Life of Pi] wanted me to look a certain way,’ says the star. ‘And I did work quite a bit to get that look.’
Nitya on her part has said that she cast Katrina in her film ‘for her mysterious quality.
‘Katrina’s social demeanour is very different. You have to scratch the surface to get to her. I was so surprised that film-makers have not tapped into her potential,’ says the director.
Katrina smiles when this is mentioned to her.
‘Every actor has a certain mystery around them. You can’t help but develop an opinion about them… what they are on screen sort of merges into what you feel about them when you meet them in real life. That happens with every actor. People don’t know how much of them is actually like this and how much of them is the character.
‘That is the magic of cinema. So people develop a perception of the actor.’
Katrina is riding a high right now and the take that she is a bankable star is clearly on the minds of several film-makers. If recent trade reports are to be believed, the poster girl is likely to be teamed with Fawad Khan for Karan Johar’s next movie under the Dharma Productions banner, to be directed by debutant Aditya Dhar.
Speculations are also rife that she will share screen space with Salman Khan once again in the sequel to Ek Tha Tiger, which is tentatively titled Tiger Zinda Hai, to be directed by Ali Abbas Zafar.
Katrina is reluctant to confirm the rumours. ‘Discussions are on right now on different projects but nothing has been announced yet. If something excites and challenges me as a person and as an actor then that would be the reason for me to pick the film,’ she says.
It’s almost midnight when we reach her destination in Versova, Mumbai, but Katrina’s day is far from over. ‘I’ve a meeting here, after which I’ll head home. And yes, tomorrow I’ve a few more interviews scheduled,’ she says as she steps out of the car.
As I thank her for her time, I’m struck by her resilience. Fame and glamour might seem her entitlement but she clearly works hard for it.
She smiles and waves a quick goodbye, her gold cuff glinting in the light of a street lamp.