Katrina Kaif

Actress Katrina Kaif in a still from Salman Khan’s “Bharat,” in which she replaced Priyanka Chopra at the last moment. Kaif told India-West that bagging the role is a blessing as the script was written with someone else in mind. (photo provided)

MUMBAI—She’s lucky that people remember her for her massive hits in the past (even as late as “Tiger Zinda Hai” in 2017) and do not care for the other flops that have inundated Katrina Kaif’s career in the last three years, including last year’s biggies “Thugs Of Hindostan” and “Zero.”

Her scene-stealing performance in “Zero” and the magnificent essay she did in “Jagga Jasoos” have also got due recognition, and in her 17th year in cinema,

Kaif is not at all down. With Rohit Shetty’s “Sooryavanshi” with Akshay Kumar in hand, she is also the likeliest candidate as of now for Hema Malini’s role in Shetty’s other production directed by Farah Khan, the “Satte Pe Satta” remake.

We interacted for “Bharat,” for which Salman Khan has predicted that she will win a National award. And we started on that note, and happily, Kaif was in an extraordinarily ebullient mood.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Salman is confident that you will win a National award for “Bharat.”

A (Laughs): For me, it’s nice to know that he appreciates what I am doing!. He saw that I had gone in deep into my character. Actors, sometimes, can see co-stars better. Salman says most things in jest, but usually, there is also some truth in them. It is nice to know that he thinks this way.”

Q: Does it signify a shift in the kind of roles you are taking up?

A: Yes, I now want to do something I haven’t done before, a character I have never seen. I want to do what challenges me, which I have not done before. If something very nice comes but is repetitious, I would be bored.

Like I thought this girl in “Bharat” would be docile and timid, but she is very modern in thought, a self-made and strong woman in the 1970s. She wants to be married as well, and I liked that balance of profession and home. At one point, in the early 1990s, she becomes a newsreader on Doordarshan, and I wanted to make her believable even in that part.

I choose what attracts the person in me today. Things change in life, in my mind, my experiences. So my choices have changed. People say I have become better as an actress. I must sustain the change, the growth, the evolution. The audience must see something new in my character every time. Longevity comes from this approach. There is no rule-book for this. You may study at the Lee Strasberg School or not even be formally trained. The former may flop, the latter may become big. I think it’s your own interest in creating characters and the opportunities that come when people see your work that matters.

Like at the time of “Dhoom:3,” I did not take the trouble of getting into the girl’s mind, as that was a different space of dance and great songs like “Kamli” and “Malang” and glamour. Today, I would.

Q: You are known for your dances and songs.

A (Nods): Because that too was a big part of what I wanted to do, as I look at songs and dance as performing arts, not items. In childhood, I was allowed to only watch musicals like “Singing in the Rain” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and musical stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. That became my info as a kid – my vision of showbiz. The high heels, hair, the bright performances – I loved them all.

In India, there were Madhuri Dixit’s films and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s movies. The joy on their face while doing all this – that was my ambition. In “Bharat,” my enjoyment was in doing my character. I did not want to dance, though Ali later made me do a situational ‘shaadi’ song.

Q: In “Bharat,” you replaced Priyanka Chopra at the last moment.

A: Yes, and that was the best thing because my writer-director Ali Abbas Zafar wrote the script with someone else in mind. When a script is written, someone is always at the back of any writer’s mind, and to an extent, he does feed in the star’s persona into it. That is why this role is a blessing.

Q: Priyanka and you are both close to Ali. Why do you think he had opted for her?

A: I think that he felt that casting her with Salman would be fresh as Priyanka and he had not worked together for a decade and more, and both of us had just done “Tiger Zinda Hai” with him.

Q: This is your third film, after “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan” and “Tiger Zinda Hai,” with Ali, one of the brightest names today. How has your association grown?

A (Condensed version of a LONG answer): That’s a very interesting story – my first interaction with him was on the sets of “New York,” on which he was assistant director. I thought he was quite rude and I hated the boy, so I told my manager to inform Adi (producer Aditya Chopra) that if this boy talked rudely with me again, I would leave the set.

Gradually, we became friends, and I realized that he was quite a hardworking boy who came across as stern. But his heart was in the right place, and he also soon came into my close circle of friends. I was shooting for “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” when he sent me a script, as he was making his directorial debut.

I realized that he had written that film, “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan,” for me as he knew me – fun-loving, silly, mad and even a prankster. And making that film came across as one of my most enjoyable experiences. He later made me an integral part of the action in “Tiger Zinda Hai,” and that really took Zoya, my character, forward.

Q: What was Salman Khan’s reaction when you signed “Bharat?”

A (Laughs again): Oh, there was no ‘Yay!’ or ‘Wow!’ – just his classic ‘Hi, what’s up!’ when we first met on sets!

Q: You are coming out with your own beauty brand.

A (Smiles): Yes, I am doing that later this year. I am excited, and my fingers are crossed. But we will meet up separately for that!

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