‘I am hundred per cent Indian ... my Hindi is pretty good’

Katrina Kaif feels that while Namaste London was a turning point in her Bollywood career, New York launched her as an actress in her own right. In this interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk, Katrina talks about her forthcoming film, Rajniti and why she considers India her home

My guest this week is Katrina Kaif, the most searched name on Google and a Bollywood Barbie.
Both the things you mentioned are two of the most special things for me. I'll tell you why. I have six sisters. They live in London and are not so aware of the Hindi film industry. So when they heard about these two things—obviously every girl in the world knows what Barbie is and every teenager in the world knows what Google is—it meant a lot to them. And everybody wants to make their family proud.

So you get along with your sisters?
Oh yes. Sometimes I call them up and say, I'm doing a movie with Akshay Kumar or with Saif Ali Khan. The youngest one, Isabelle, is here, the rest of them don't know much about our industry. So even though they are happy for me and support me, they don't have that connect.

Where do you fit in that long order of siblings?
Exactly three before me and three after me. I am right in the middle.

So you have three big sisters and three sisters you can...
...Bully. In London, you don't have maids or cooks. We have this big family house and there are five rooms. I don't cook. So, when I go to London, I tell my younger sisters to cook for me. They are fabulous cooks.

That's the Kashmiri in you...
Yes. Living in Bombay we have become dependent on other people to do our day-to-day work. We get out of the habit of cooking, making our own beds, cleaning utensils. Most foreigners, who come here, find it odd.

Do you consider yourself a foreigner or an Indian?
I am hundred per cent Indian. When I was growing up, I always felt a very strong awareness that I am an Asian. I don't know whether that's politically correct or not, but I always felt that I am different and growing up in a country that's not Asian.

It's almost an Asian country now.
Now it is. But that sense of belonging was always missing when I was growing up. When I came to India, I felt an instant sense of belonging. My uncle was here, I had a bit of family in Bangalore. My uncle was a civil engineer constructing water systems for the city. I came here with my older sister and she said, "Katrina, this is not for me and I love our house in London and want to go back." I said I am going to stay here; this is where I want to be. Now, there is no other place that I would ever consider home.
When I came here, I had only Rs 4 lakh. I told myself that if I can make it with this money, I will stay here. If not, I will go back to London and rejoin college. I was only 17 at that time and was modelling. I bought a small apartment near a cemetery. I fear living alone and fear darkness, so I would stay up all night and wait for the sun to come up and then go to bed at five o'clock in the morning and sleep for five hours.
I did my first photo shoot with a photographer called Farooq. I got very good feedback. I took my portfolio and went from one agency to another. I would go there and say, can I meet your casting director. I showed them my pictures. The casting agents started calling me.

Did you find India or did some Indian film person find you?
I found India.

So the stories of Kaizad Gustad discovering you...
I met Kaizad Gustad in London. He encouraged me. He said, "You must come to India." At that time I was focusing on modelling. He gave me a lot of contacts, including that of Farooq.

Tell us who you are. Why is there so much mystery? I'll not go by whatever I have read in film magazines. Tell us about yourself, pre-stardom.
I was born in Hong Kong. My mom was a Harvard graduate, a very successful lawyer who gave it up to join a charitable organisation. She was working with the organisation as a non-profit lawyer and because of that, we travelled a lot. From Hong Kong, we went to Japan, China, France, Hawaii and then to London.

The Indian in you comes from your father.
Yes. My parents separated when we were very young. We were raised by my mother who did a wonderful job. She raised us with the belief and inspiration to find yourself in the world. Live your dreams and find what is going to make you live life freely. She made us tough and she wasn't the kind of mother who told us to go to college and get a degree and become a doctor or a lawyer. She herself had found her fulfillment in things that were off-beat. I have one brother. He is a professional skier and a rock climber.

What about your father?
We have grown up without a father. I missed it a great deal. I do feel that sense of loss.

You haven't been in touch with him?
No. When I see friends who have wonderful fathers who are like pillars of support for their families, I say, if only I had that. But instead of complaining, I should be grateful for all the other things I have.

He hasn't tried to get in touch with you after you became a star.
No, he is not that kind of a man. He is very decent and comes from a good family and they went their own ways because of issues which are personal. He is an affluent person, so he is not going to come back because his daughter is now famous.

When did the big break come?
I don't think I've had that big break. For me it was 'oh Katrina looks nice here' or 'that's a nice ad' or 'that's an ok song' or 'that's a nice movie'. It was all gradual, step-by-step.

Maybe it happened a little bit with Singh is Kinng?
Before that there was a film called Namaste London where, for the first time, I had a dominating role and Akshay Kumar allowed me to do that at a stage when not many people believed in me. He's a huge star. He knew that a lot of the industry was not behind me and he still went ahead. That was a turning point in my career in the film industry. The film's script was fabulous and for the first time I got a good response from the industry. After Namaste London, there was Race where people said, she does this kind of dancing well. Then there was Singh is Kinng and now New York.

I keep hearing from Prakash Jha about the work you are doing in his film, Rajniti. It's a serious role.
That film has a lot of potential and to me it looks like a great film. I can't tell you how excited I am about that film.

He tells me that you look the part. He says you will bust the myth that you can't speak in Hindi. He told me you recorded a speech on the phone.
He recorded the speech for me because he is not only a director and a very intelligent man but also a politician of sorts. He knows how to deliver a speech. The speech was recorded so that I could get the intonations right.

Do you think it is the film that will launch you as an actor in your own right?
I think with New York, I have got that to a large extent.

How did Salman happen and when?
We met through his sister at a party. I have always said that I will never get into details about these personal things. You will waste a part of your life answering, denying or clarifying things that don't matter or are just speculations. I am too much of a sensitive person to have this side of my life debated or to enter and participate in these kinds of debates.
He has been a wonderful person for the last six years I have known him. He has got a great soul and he is very fearless. He is not afraid of anything and he is not an insecure person. A lot of people live their lives with so much insecurity—fear of rejection, of losing things. But he doesn't fear. And he tries to teach me that.
He has made his own mistakes in life. In case of other people, he has a great quality of being able to negate all the bad things and flaws and see their potential. For me, he has been a great teacher and a great guide. He has seen me grow up in the last six years. For 18 to 24 is a journey, especially for a young girl. At times, he says you are changing. And I say, I am changing because I am growing. He says, "Be careful, don't change into something that is not good."

That's not what a successful 24-year-old wants to be told.
Sometimes what you need to be told is not what you want to hear. It's good to have people in your life who can be like sound boards.

Tell us about your Hindi issue. Have you had to take lessons?
I have had to take a lot of lessons. I still take lessons, especially for Rajniti. I am working on my diction. I read Hindi very well.

If you lost your way in Mumbai, will you be able to find your way back using Hindi?
Oh, yes! My Hindi is pretty good.

Do you watch cricket?
I am a brand ambassador for the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Do you understand cricket like all Indians?
Yes, I play cricket. My batting is a little better than my bowling. I have to work on my bowling. The ball is just not going the right place.

I think there is nothing better than being an all-rounder. After being the Indian Barbie and the most searched name on Google, all you need is an ace to become an all-rounder.
And I have got an entire team to teach me. After we didn't win the finals this year, our captain Anil Kumble was standing there as I was about to perform in the finale. I looked at him and said, congratulations. He looked so disheartened because it was so near yet so far. We could have won.

I think all they need now is for you to practise with your bowling so that you can join the team next year.
I can join the team. I keep saying that to Vijay Mallya. I hope Vijay Mallya is not watching this, he might even do it. He is adventurous enough.

And for all you know he might have a winner on his hands. Katrina, keep winning all the time.
Thank you so much.
_(Transcribed by Uttara Varma)

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