Saturday, June 11, 2011


For previous installments, please visit the index

You’ve met today’s biggest Heroes but what about the heroines? I’m going to run through the ladies I consider the big names today - with an emphasis on currency. As I explained in my piece on
heroines, leading ladies flit through the film industry much more quickly than the men. This is due to a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:

1. Marriage has traditionally ended the careers of actresses and most women still marry fairly young.
2. Both producers and Heroes prefer working with younger actresses.
3. Heroine roles are often that of a wide-eyed innocent and a lady can only play (convincingly) virginal for so long.

It’s a harsh world out there for actresses.


Enter the words “Katrina Kaif” into any search engine and you will swiftly discover that she is the World’s Hottest Woman according to numerous lad mag sponsored polls. When the Matel Toy Company wanted Bollywood actress to embody the plastic perfection of a Barbie Doll, they turned to Katrina Kaif. Katrina’s image stares down from billboards promoting everything from make-up to mango Fanta; she is ubiquitous and yet we know almost nothing about her. Katrina does not tweet the mundanities of her life nor does she chat about her personal relationships to gossip columnists and journalists. Much Katrina’s life before stardom is opaque - her real name, her family history, her love life, and her age have all been the subject of intense media speculation and yet the woman herself refuses to comment on anything not strictly related to her latest film release. Katrina exists only on our movie screens and in our imaginations and she has risen to massive stardom in complete defiance to the new media 24-hour news cycle culture.

The agreed upon facts of Katrina’s early life are as follows. She is half-English and is the middle of seven children. Her father left the family when she was young and the brood was raised by their mother, Suzanne, an attorney. Suzanne’s work took the family all over the world and Katrina and the kids were home-schooled and kept very sheltered. They finally landed back in London when Katrina was in her teens. She was encouraged to begin modeling and go steady work but was considered “too fat” for Western standards. Still, something about Katrina refused to be ignored and during one of her modeling assignments she was spotted by a Bollywood producer, who offered her a small role in a film. The year was 2003 and that film was
Boom, a massive bust and only notable now for the debut of La Kaif.

Despite the failure of
Boom at the box office, Katrina evidently found enough appealing about Mumbai that she picked up and moved there. It was a hard slog for Katrina in the early years as she learned the business but she did have one stroke of luck - Salman Khan. Whether they had a romantic or business arrangement (or both)* is between the two of them but either way, Salman-bhai ensured that his new ladyfriend was seen by all the right producers. It’s important to bear in mind that no amount of nepotism or preferred treatment can keep a starlet in the business if the box office results aren’t there. And Katrina might well have drifted out of sight after a string of middling films through 2004, 2005, and 2006. But she didn’t. And the reason is Namastey London.

Coming in early 2007,
Namastey London, a romantic-comedy about an arranged marriage between a “Funjabi” boy and an English girl, was a surprise hit. Kat’s joyful and engaging performance as Jasmeet aka “Jazz” won the nation’s heart. She solidified her box office status through 2007 and 2008 by showing a keen eye for potential blockbusters. She appeared in two of the top five grossing films in both 2007 and 2008, a remarkable average for any actress. Perhaps because of her extreme popularity with the masses and her extreme reluctance to put her personal life out for public specuation, Katrina became a target of the Bollywood gossip industry, who began picking on her acting ability, her accent,** and raised intense speculation on her ethnic background and age. In other words, as far as the Bollywood-industrial complex was concerned, Katrina was still an outsider.

In the years since then, with her appeal with the masses firmly established, Katrina has slowly begun taking on more challenging roles in more substantial films. The small-budget
New York (2009), which tackled the treatment of Muslim-Americans after the 9/11 terror attacks, won her rave reviews, as did the political family drama Raajneeti (2010), in which she played a character loosely based on Sonia Gandhi. With every film, Katrina’s skills increase and she grows more confident. Instead of spending time chatting the media over her romances, Katrina has been busy building Brand Katrina. Her 2010 item song “Sheila Ki Jawaani” has already become a cultural touchstone and Kat has already begun to consolidate resources to dip a toe into film production. Putting her gypsy upbringing behind her, Katrina has put down firm roots in Mumbai. Perhaps it’s true that early adversity builds character...

Where to begin with Katrina is tricky because she has done so many of those over-the-top
masala films that Hollywood viewers initially find overwhelming. Here are some I think you might enjoy:

Namasatey London (2007) Although there are more than a few jingoistic overtones to this romantic-comedy, it still makes for entertaining viewing. Katrina plays a fun-loving English girl whose father tries to force her to discover her Indian roots only to have his plans backfire spectacularly. Akshay plays the man hit by the backfire.

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009) This high-voltage romantic-comedy plays like a live Archie comic book. Katrina plays a normal neighborhood girl who works at the library and cheeky hero Ranbir Kapoor plays the president of the local Happy Club who falls in love with her. The comedy is good-natured, the songs are fun, and the finale takes place in a bubble factory. It's one of my go-to films for when I'm feeling low. (And watch for a special cameo by Katrina's boyfriend at the time... Salman Khan!)

Raajneeti (2010) In this political drama with heavy Godfather overtones, Katrina plays a character based on political wife-turned-politician Sonia Gandhi but she is only one part of an all-star cast which also features Sarah Thompson Kane from Angel: The Series! The second act gets a bit lengthy but this one is a must-watch.

* Freudians might speculate that the appeal of Salman Khan lay in his age and personality, the fatherless girl looking for a powerful male presence in her life.

** Katrina’s first language is English and her Hindi is spoken with an accent considered “ugly” by some even if most of the public doesn’t really mind. A Hollywood parallel might be an actress like Salma Hayek, who speaks English with a Spanish accent.


Sal said...

Is her accent considered ugly? I think it's more that she plays Indian characters who live in India and yet the stresses and cadences in her speech are off. Hema and Sridevi had major accents, but they got the feel and flow of the Hindi right, but Katrina often misplaces the emphasis on words and syllables, which makes her dialogue delivery sound stilted. I have to say though, that while I don't think of any of her performances as "good" per se, I can't help but admire her hard work, perseverance and the way she carries herself. Work ethic is often just as important as talent. I hope she keeps choosing roles (like the one that she seems to be doing in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) where things are kept light and naturalistic and she has to neither come acros as a caricature not do serious dramatic heavy lifting that she isn't ready for.

Bombay Talkies said...

It's no secret that I can't stand Katrina Kaif, but she *does* have a lot going for her. She's obviously a hard worker, and she's gorgeous, and those are major requirements in the industry.

I think without Salman she would have been out a long time ago--as you say, nepotism doesn't get you far if you don't have hits, but in her case it certainly did. Her acting is...subpar, her dancing's not much to look at (admittedly she's improved, but she's not a natural dancer and that shows in her performances) and her film choices

BUT...she's charismatic. I'll definitely give her that. And Namastey London was a cute film (awkward acting aside).

She'll never be one of my favorites but (in my opinion) she's gone from horrible to tolerable. I guess that's something... :P

maxqnz said...

I am, of course, naturally biased toward any Anglo-Indian, but I am really starting to like KK. I have never understood the frightening depth of personal animus directed toward her, especially since, as you point out, she's somewhat enigmatic offscreen. I just watched APKGK last night, and it's a keeper. Even I could hear how foo her Hindi was in it (pot, meet kettle), but I do think that Sal's nailed it - her strong accent and awkward delivery grate when coming from allegedly HFL characters.

I like the way she looks, except for the ridiculous collagen balloon thing she's getting into, and think she actually wears Indian fasclothes very well. I alsohave no problems with how she got where she is - given the rank nepotism in BW, outsiders do what they have to to get ahead, whether that outsider is KK or SRK. Now I must try to get a copy of Namastey London to see how it compares to APKGK. :)

maxqnz said...

BTW, that "foo" was supposed to be "off" - sometimes my CP has the most intersting effects on my typing :)

larissa said...

Like many people, I disliked Katrina for a long time. But two things eventually changed my mind.

First, this excellent profile of her which appeared in Tehelka Magazine in 2008, in which she herself admits that "the lack of a father means I am drawn to older men" and that her itinerant childhood has resulted in a craving for stability and financial security.

Second, her wonderfully articulate appearance on the interview program Beautiful People, where she totally endeared herself to me by rejecting the perception of herself as a "wind-up doll", admitting to Googling the nutritional properties of the sweet potato, and naming Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist as the kind of movie she would like to be in.

Filmi Girl said...

@larissa Thank you for that link to the "Beautiful People" interview! Katrina is so well spoken and intelligent...

Sure, she's not the world's greatest actress but there is something very engaging about her on screen. She draws the eye and I think she makes a connection with the audience, even if she's not giving an Award Winning Performance. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of Marilyn Monroe, who was also much smarter than people gave her credit for.

maxqnz said...

Seconding that @larissa - great, frank, candid interview, thank you so much for the link! Such a shame about all that collagen though.

luscious-words said...

It took time for KK to grow on me, but now I like her. She's not up there with Rani, Madhuri or Vidya for me, but she's not someone whose movies I avoid. :)

~ Layla

maxqnz said...

@layla - I'm with you, especially having watched two of the three that filmi girl recommended over the weekend - APKGK and Namastey London. Both cemented my view that she does cute very well, and doesn't deserve the vilification she gets

luscious-words said...

@maxqnz, Namastey London was one that won me over, but it was Raajneeti that really convinced me.

S said...

I'll admit that I'm predisposed to liking Katrina. There are rumours that she lived in Hong Kong (my childhood home) for a bit and although I haven't moved around nearly as much as she has, I'm a TCK like she is. But her acting and screen presence I feel is genuinely quite good - she really convinced me as Jazz, Jenny and even in Rajneeti. She's cute and I like the way she carries herself off-screen too. Hmm I think she's the Bwood heroine whom I would find easiest to talk to off-screen.

Jess said...

I've recently become a big Katrina fan, it was probably inevitable since I love watching Akki on screen. I like Katrina because of the incredible things she's accomplished. A new country, new language, new everything. And say what you will about her acting/dancing, her movies make money. It might be luck, but I get the feeling she learned very early on how to cast herself. As for her accent, it sounds slightly like an American speaking Hindi which doesn't really bother me. But I imagine it can sound as cringe worthy as when I hear some actors speak English lines stilted/with the wrong emphases etc. (Kareena in Kambakkht Ishq)

As for the Salman factor, he obviously helped her a lot, but I think her jodi with Akshay has been even more important for her career in the long run.

And I think once you get past her very poised public persona, she's a really fun and sweet person. I've seen a bunch of interviews with costars and they mention things about her you'd never have any idea her playing cricket on set even though she is terrible.

She just seems like she worked really hard to be where she is now, and she deserves some props for that.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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