As she heads to the altar, in matters of both work and love

Katrina Kaif has been in the public eye for both her work and her relationships with Salman Khan and Ranbir Kapoor. As she is now all set to marry Vicky Kaushal, here’s a look back at what made her endure setbacks and heartbreaks.

I vividly recall Katrina Kaif’s first call to me. She was new to the film industry, and she had been given a list of names in the media of people who could help her. How do I know? She told me so herself.

That’s Katrina Kaif for you. Always upfront in her opinions, never afraid to tell the truth. And yes, the only girlfriend who was not afraid of Salman Khan.

A filmmaker friend tells the story of Kaif and her refusal to be bullied by Khan. This filmmaker was sitting with Khan in the latter’s living room at Galaxy Apartment, when Kaif walked in announcing that she was going out.

“In that?” Khan asked, drawing attention to her apparel. He suggested that she change into something more appropriate.

Kaif went back in, and emerged in something even skimpier, and strode right out.

This incident says a lot about this self-willed woman who will do what her heart and mind tell her to. And they, the heart and mind, told her long back that Khan was not the man she wanted to marry. She loved him all right. But not in the way a wife loves a husband. She told me it was “something else,” something far more spiritual.

“I know he’s there for me when I want him,” Kaif confided in me. Back then we were close, although Khan did not like me at all. He still does not. The feud goes back to his stormy relationship with Aishwarya Rai. He felt I sided with her, and refused to see his point of view.

Anyway, to get back to Kaif. She admitted that she sought the help of Khan initially to decide what films to do. “Not just Salman, I also took the advice of people like Sajid Nadiadwala and David Dhawan. But finally, the films I did were my call,” said this honest and unpretentiously beautiful girl who tries to underplay her intelligence simply to fit into the ‘Bharatiya Nari’ mould.

“Oh, one has to work very hard on it. Men don’t like to be around women who can talk back. I like to make my point. But I don’t like to be aggressive and insistent in my attitude. At the same time, you won’t see me knocking on producers’ doors at odd hours to get work. I never have, I never will.” Kaif is the happiest when audiences see her as a full-on desi heroine, often more so than the Size- 0 heroines who seem to belong to another hemisphere.

“It’s because I grew up in a large joint family filled with seven sisters and brothers. The atmosphere at home was very Indian.

Kaif’s struggle started in 2000 when she arrived in Mumbai. “I came to Mumbai to be a model. I had no inkling at that point of time that I was going to be an actress. I first met photographer Farrokh Chothia, who put me on to the right modeling agencies. Soon, the modeling assignments began to trickle in. I was also introduced to (celebrity photographer) Daboo Ratnani, who did my portfolio.”

Ratnani’s photographs were circulated in the film industry. Soon, Kaif landed her first film project. “When I did Boom in 2003, I was clueless about my intentions, camera angles, language, the works. I’d say my film career started with Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar in 2005, followed by Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya. That’s when my real initiation into acting began. I was kinda getting bored with modeling and ramp walking. I sensed I had reached a saturation point there, and needed to move on. Acting seemed the next natural step.”

Kaif described her early days in Mumbai as lonely. “To begin with, I lived in a two-bedroom flat near Rizvi College. The entire day, I’d be visiting modeling agencies. In the evening, I’d return home to a lonely house. I’d miss my sisters’ presence around me. But it was okay. I don’t want to romanticise those days. I didn’t really have to struggle hard. Nothing untoward happened to me. No one made any sleazy suggestions.” What really bothered Kaif initially was not her lack of knowledge of Hindi. “In any case, everyone in the modeling world spoke English so that wasn’t a problem, except when I had to haggle with auto-rickshaws to avoid being cheated, and to find addresses in Mumbai. That was tough.”

Also awkward were the gawkers. “Because I came from London, I dressed in a certain casual way that was not quite acceptable in Mumbai. You know, stuff like shorts and tops, or just the kind of clothes that are considered trendy among college kids but somewhat bold for working girls. People would simply stare. I had to change the way I dressed. I also hired a tutor to teach me Hindi, and I started learning Kathak dancing from a guru recommended by filmmaker Dharmesh Darshan. Both Priyanka Chopra and I learnt classical Indian dancing from the same man.”

Kaif looked back on her years in Mumbai with much affection. “The city has given me a lot, and I today feel I am fully a part of the Indian entertainment industry. I’ve done films not only in Hindi but also in Telugu and Malayalam. Is there a sense of satisfaction in what I’ve achieved? There is, there most certainly is. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am. There are days when I don’t get more than three-four hours of sleep. But then all the hard work pays off. I feel I’ve earned my next holiday whenever it might be. I look forward to taking periodical breaks to be with my siblings and mother.”

There are not too many friends in Mumbai. Kaif finds it hard to get along with her female colleagues. “It’s not as if I haven’t tried to make friends with… whoever. It never works out. There’s always that edge of competitiveness.” One of the main reasons why she wholeheartedly embraced Khan’s family was because they provided her with a comfort zone in a city where she was all alone. Kaif’s bonding with Khan’s family goes beyond the fair-weather relationships of the entertainment industry. The Khans really welcomed Kaif into their family.

In an old interview, Kaif said to me, “Salman helped me a lot to find my bearings in Mumbai. He guided me, helped me choose the right roles, and to find my place in Mumbai. He was there for me constantly. With Salman and his family around, I never felt alone in Mumbai.” Kaif confessed to me she often ends up subconsciously looking for a father-figure in her male company. “We sisters grew up without a father in the house. So I guess I do look for sensible wise male company. I get bored with giddy-headed guys my own age.”

Beyond that, Kaif will not talk about her personal life. “It’s very simple. I’m a friendly girl. I don’t like to offend anyone. But in pleasing others, and not offending them, I won’t compromise with my own inbuilt sense of right and wrong. I know what I want in life. And I won’t take any shortcuts.”

The only relationship she had after Khan (and before Vicky Kaushal) was with Ranbir Kapoor. She was ready to leave everything, her career, her nationality (she is half-British) to be Mrs Ranbir Kapoor. They almost made it to the altar. But Ranbir’s mother Neetu Kapoor did not approve of Kaif. More importantly, Ranbir changed his mind at the eleventh hour.

I hope Mr and Mrs Sham Kaushal approve of their new bahu. Kaif has a pure heart. She is generous and forgiving. But she will not be taken for granted. Here is wishing her an eternity of marital bliss.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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