From stereotypes (“pretty face, can’t act”) and prejudices (“she only continues to get work because of Salman”), to complicated, much-scrutinized romantic relationships (Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor), Katrina Kaif has overcome many challenges to remain firmly in the reckoning. Some 15 years since she arrived as a breath of fresh air in Bollywood, she won her first acting award recently for playing a movie star whose break-up sends her into a spiral of depression and alcoholism in the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Zero (2018). It was an affecting performance, and arguably her strongest to date, but her critics sniggered that it only felt authentic because she was playing a character not far removed from herself.
Katrina Kaif can’t seem to catch a break. But today, dressed simply in an over-sized sweatshirt and track pants, her hair tied up in a bun, reading glasses perched on her nose as she’s snuggled into a sofa at her home (she’s returned to the same rental she was staying at before she got a place with her ex, Ranbir), she displays the kind of patience and understanding that come from deep introspection. As she reaches for the tall beaker of water with lemon slices and mint leaves that is placed conveniently within reach, she admits she’s been reading a lot lately, and has been feeling more empowered. She uses the word “authentic” frequently, talks about “the universe” a lot, and appears to be at peace with her place in it currently…
Rajeev Masand: How would you describe your current state of mind?
Katrina Kaif: Oh wow… I think it’s about wanting to learn, create, do something interesting. My mind is so attuned to work, so I think that’s what you attract. I have strong ideas about certain concepts, film ideas, or franchises that I want to create. I feel this is the time to try new things.
RM: You got some of the best reviews of your career with Zero, last year. And now, you have a huge movie, Bharat, coming out in June. Are you at peace in your professional space?
KK: I’m excited. It’s tough to be at peace as an actor. This is an insecure, slightly unstable profession. But I’m excited that I’ve earned a certain position where I can now create things.
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RM: Kat, it’s been over 15 years in this business and you started working when you were very young. Have you been able to strike that work-life balance everyone is always talking about?
KK: Ummm… right now I’d say my life is 80% work and 20% personal. But it’s not in our control. Right now, there’s a lot of work happening. I take it as a good thing. It wasn’t in my control when my personal life…
(Interrupts) RM: Took precedence?
KK: No. When my personal life got over. It’s hard to know exactly why things happened. But I have a different take on it. “Ok fine—it [the break-up] sucks, it’s terrible, this is the worst thing in the world, my life is over. Let’s sit here and believe this, even for just two minutes. Do we feel good about things? No.” But if you really believe in your god, your universe, you’ll feel much better. The reason I feel that I should say this is because there are young girls who might be listening to me. They might find something that helps them. I may see a person and think, “Oh, she’s got everything”, or “Oh, she doesn’t struggle like I do”. But you know what? You don’t know that. Everyone struggles. The most important thing is to learn. We are all trying to work and achieve, in spite of our fears and insecurities. You don’t wake up one day and discover that it’s all gone. You have to push through it.
RM: As a society, do you think we are too obsessed with youth? Especially in entertainment?
KK: No. What is in the past has become our blueprint for what is in the future. That is where the problem lies. See, I’m not delusional. I am not 22 anymore. Truth is, we need people who are doing things that are authentic to them. Look at Charlize Theron—one of my favorite actors. She’s carving out her own path.
RM: Which films did you see recently that made you go, “Oh, this is really interesting”?
KK: I liked Andhadhun. There is some good, interesting cinema being made. What’s exciting is that I am working towards getting that energy.
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RM: You’ve spoken in the past about wanting to produce. In fact, you came quite close to it—you bought the rights to remake a French film. But you didn’t go through with it. Is producing still an ambition?
KK: Yes. It’s definitely an ambition. We get ideas, but we get bogged down by other people’s opinions—“Why do you want to produce? Your acting career is going perfectly well.” Or “Actors become producers when they’re not getting roles.” But I’ve realised that it’s important to take responsibility for what’s happening with your life. Do what your heart and your mind says; don’t base your decisions on other people’s opinions.
RM: Reese Witherspoon has said that the idea is to put women in the centre of the story. She went on to produce shows like Big Little Lies, and now she’s producing a show with Jennifer Aniston for Apple. Does that resonate with you?
KK: Oh, incredibly. I have met with three major studios and sitting right in this chair, I’ve told them, “Write a good concept for two women.” I can only go by instinct. And I really hope that someone comes up with a kick-ass script for two strong female characters.
RM: Do you see yourself acting forever or do you have other dreams?
KK: Oh god, I have no idea. I just have no idea. I’m open to what life gives me.
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RM: But do you have an idea of where you’d like to be a few years from now?
KK: If you asked me when I was 14-15, I would have said that at 29, I’d be married with kids. That was what I wanted. Now you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
RM: As far as relationships are concerned, there’s a maturity you’ve acquired that is evident. When we spoke a few months ago, you said that one of your efforts was going to be to not lose your individuality. What does that involve?
KK: It’s… I don’t know… When you get into a relationship (and I’m not in one right now), don’t base your full identity on the response you are getting from that person. Don’t give all the power or validation away to somebody else.
RM: The fact that you can be friends with Alia (Bhatt), who is Ranbir’s current girlfriend, or that you can put aside your history with his ex, Deepika Padukone, or that you can be cordial with him—is really mature! How does that wisdom come?
KK: It comes from realising that these things don’t matter. Me holding on to resentment or a grudge isn’t going to change the situation. It boils down to logic. But I’m human. Yeah, I feel bad, I cry. I feel devastated. And then, I get back up and say, it’s fine. Something’s coming, something’s coming. As for the uncomfortable equation I once had with Deepika...I just react to instinct. I don’t feel that animosity or discomfort between us anymore. I felt happy to let that go.
RM: Kareena Kapoor Khan was asked on Koffee with Karan who she’d stick in an elevator together. She picked Deepika, Alia, and you. Do you wonder about that?
KK: I don’t think that would be an interesting lift. We are all fine and nice and cool. At some award function, we were [even] sitting together. It’s cool, yaar. Everyone’s doing their own thing and chilling in life.
RM: This feels like Katrina 2.0. Do you feel like a new person?
KK: I don’t feel like a completely new person. I’ve been in that position where, man, I couldn’t face a thing. But I have let go of things that don’t help anymore. And this is because my feelings can weigh me down. And it doesn’t mean that I am denying my feelings. If I see a picture of something that bothers me, I may want to run away from it. Instead, I put that picture right in front of me and stare at it until it loses its hold.
RM: You said that your dream while growing up was that at 30 you would be married and having kids.
KK: At 29…RM: Right, married at 29. You’re 35. Are you cynical about love?
RM: Are you open to love?
KK: Yes, very much. I’m not cynical at all about love. I am open to it with a positive mind and attitude. If you’ve known bitterness, you can also recognise when you are in a good space. It’s cool. I am open to new things and experiences.
PHOTOGRAPHS: TARUN VISHWA; STYLING: RAHUL VIJAY; HAIR: YIANNI TSAPATORI/FAZE MANAGEMENT; MAKEUP: DANIEL BAUER/ ART FACTORY INDIA; ASSISTED BY: PUJARINI GHOSH, SIDHARTH MEHTA, SUHANI LOTIKAR (STYLING); LOCATION COURTESY: FAIRMONT MALDIVES SIRRU FEN FUSHI, MALDIVES.