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Trust in my director is most important

Katrina Kaif breaks down her character in Zero, talks about the changes in the industry, the importance of secure film sets and more, in a conversation with Titas Chowdhury and Bhavi Gathani

Titas Chowdhury (TC): Katrina, how are the promotions coming along?

It is hectic! I find promotions very tiring. I think it is because my voice goes off by the end of every day, like, ‘pop’! Have you heard the sound of your voice after a long time? Jesus, it is not fun! Trust me!

Bhavi Gathani (BG): And have you been doing this since the morning?

No. I was shooting for the Screen Awards last night. They had some technical issues on the LED. So we ended up going home by 4 o’clock. I started today at around 12 o’clock. But I genuinely find promotions tiring. 

TC: At least now you do not do city tours and mall visits as much as you used to.

Thank God for that! And you do not need to. People decide if they want to watch a film after seeing the trailers and the promos.

TC: Coming to Zero, you look amazing in Husn parcham.

Thank you (Smiles). We wanted to do some different things with this song. With Anaita (Shroff Adajania), I always have this safety zone. She will tell me if something is off. If she says it is okay, then I will have the confidence that even if it is different, it is good.

TC: Are you a self-critical actor?

Actor? I am a self-critical woman, which I think is true for most people (Laughs). I think we are all self-critical. I am probably more self-critical than most people. I am very, very hard on myself. If I put on weight, I feel very uncomfortable. So I try to tell myself that it is okay. I feel it is a struggle to constantly try to maintain yourself and maintain that peak where you want to be.

TC: We have seen Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma and you in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. How different or similar was the experience this time?

Unfortunately, Anushka and I do not have any scenes together in this movie. Honestly, working with Shah Rukh again was a little different. Jab Tak Hai Jaan was a very romantic film. It was dramatic and it was classic. It was made by Yashji (Chopra). Zero was very different. This was like coming on the sets with a very different dynamic. Babita’s character is aggressive, defensive, vulnerable, loud and emotional; she is dependent on alcohol.

On the set, that dynamic between Shah Rukh and Katrina, as man and woman or boy and girl, had to completely disappear. Imagine me going to a film set, drunk, upset and really in a bad space with a messed up mind! If I sit and start talking with this junior light boy who is also there, what is the conversation going to be like? That conversation will in no way reflect the dynamic between Shah Rukh and me. Of course, we are actors and we are here to act. But to create that, for me, was fun and a good experience. I feel like I am in a phase of my career where I am able to process more information and learn more.

BG: In a recent interview, you had said that since Zero is a film that is very VFX-based, you had to look at this tennis ball and enact your scenes. How was that experience?

That was only the first day. It is called the ‘performance pass’, where we had a real scene between me and Shah Rukh. Shah Rukh would move and I had to do the same scene with a marker to look at for the body. They very quickly changed that and it never happened again, which was wonderful because I think I would have sucked at it, because it is not a superhero film where we are just posing with guns and swords.

Zero is a very emotionally intense film; there are a lot of scenes to do. I think I would have struggled with the markers. On the second day, they had figured out that we were not going to do that any more and they tweaked that technique, where all the eye lines became real so that whenever I would talk to Shah Rukh, I would look into his eyes and talk to him. 

TC: You play Babita in the film, where you are a larger-than-life star. Katrina Kaif, the actor, also represents a dream…

(Cuts in) I wonder what dream that is (Laughs).

TC: Did that kind of help you step into the shoes of Babita with greater ease?

he only thing it did was enable me to understand her feelings, that what seems to be on the outside may not always be the way they actually are. At the basic core, all human emotions are similar. You probably wake up in the morning and have days where you feel insecure and you do not like the way you look. I have plenty of days when I wake up and I hate the way I look. We are all insecure and we all have the same feelings.

That is what Aanand (L Rai) sir wanted to say in the film. You have three incomplete people in the film. On the surface, you might think that Bauua’s life must be much worse than Babita’s because he is vertically challenged, or that Aafia’s life must be much worse than Babita’s because she has a physical disability. When you come into all their lives, you realise that their emotional struggles are the same. 

You have to find the emotional journey and the emotional core of the character. For that, I was very clear with Aanand sir that this is what we should to do in line with how she is, what she does, how she behaves and how defensive and vulnerable she is. The emotional core is something you have to connect to and then align it with where the character is going. I can always draw from your emotional experiences but I have to align them with where Babita is going, because my emotional experiences and my pain relating to things which are over and done are past and they do not have a forward going dynamic. I have to make sure that I can draw whatever I want from and I have to put it in a place which is in line with where Babita is going.

BG: What drew you to Aafia that you wanted to play her initially?

I had a vision for that character, that is all. I was the first one to get this script. At that time, no one was cast in the film. I read it and said to Aanand sir that I had a very clear vision as to what I want to do with that character. He said to me, ‘I would love for that to be, but I really have a vision that I want you to play Babita.’ I knew that it is something he had had for a long time. And I believe that cinema is a director’s medium. I felt that a director like Aanand Rai was the right person to trust. I trusted his vision.

TC: As a director, Aanand L Rai comes from a different school of filmmaking than the other directors you have worked with in the past.

He is very different. His cinema is very cinematic. His women characters are very unique, strong and well-written. Himanshu (Sharma) has a style of writing you have to get used to. In Aanand sir’s film, everything is very entertaining, larger-than-life but also very rooted. His emotional content is always strong. His characters are emotional and he knows where he is going with them. His films do not meander or waver too much because he follows the emotional connect that he is trying to create with the film.

TC: You have worked with Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. You have also worked with younger actors. Is it different when you are working with, say, a Shah Rukh versus a newer actor, where you need to shoulder greater responsibilities?

Definitely! The experience is very different. These guys come with 25-30 years of experience. They have knowledge – the knowledge of cinema in totality that includes the knowledge of characters and performances – which is right even if you tweak it to what you need it for. Their bank of knowledge of the film in general is something that you can draw from.

BG: After doing so many films, has your process of choosing scripts changed?

First, I have to always feel that I am working on a set where I feel secure and I have trust in the director. You have to trust that you are in good hands because you have to invest so much of yourself in it. Then I have to see if it is a film I would want to watch. For me, it is very important; otherwise, it is not worth it. I do not want to put someone through something I myself would not see through, no matter what the character is. These two things need to be present. Right now, I am looking for characters that I have not done before so that I am alive, vibrant and challenged. If I am challenged, then I am in sync with the character and only then will the audience feel it.

I genuinely feel there is so much left to do. I hope the right films come along, that allow me to portray that.

TC: You started your career 15 years ago and have done around 35 films. How have you seen the industry changing over the years?

It is a lot more professional now. It is a lot more streamlined; there are bound scripts today, compared to the first few films that I have done. Everything is much more different now. The working environment is so luxurious. You have assistants, costume assistants and you have a lot more luxury.

TC: We were talking to Saif Ali Khan a few weeks ago and he told us that even after being in the industry for so long, Fridays still scare him. Do you also dread Fridays?

Yeah! More than ‘butterflies in my stomach’ fear now, it is more about the expectations and hope. It is about connecting with the audience and hitting the mark that we want to hit. You can only hope that what you have done has landed with the audience, right? That is the only one desire that you have, as an actor. 

BG: Last year, during Christmas, you had given a blockbuster with Tiger Zinda Hai. With Zero, do you think it will be two in a row?

I am hoping for that. It will be lovely if that happens again. That will be a joyous Christmas celebration. It will be very nice. I will be very happy (Smiles). The reason you want numbers is because it means that the audiences have come to see your films. In proportion to the budget, you have to target the audience accordingly. Numbers are important because it means the film has connected with the audience.

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