Since the time Katrina Kaif attended the premiere of Shah Rukh Khan-Preity Zinta-Rani Mukerji starrer Veer Zaara in 2004, her greatest aspiration was to work in a Yash Chopra film. However, it seemed like a far-fetched dream then as she was seen as an ‘outsider’ compounded by a language problem in Hindi. But having overcome the hurdles since, and making her place among the top three actresses in Bollywood, Katrina has fulfilled her biggest dream — of being a Yash Chopra heroine in his swan song Jab Tak Hain Jaan (JTHJ). Dressed casually in a loosely-fitted tee and a pair of denims, Katrina looks at home in Yash Raj studios in Mumbai. And in a tête-à-tête with Screen, shares her experience of working in JTHJ — her first with Yash Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan. Excerpts:
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is your first film with Yash Chopra. What are your thoughts now that Yashji was not around when the film released?
For me, there are so many poignant memories and things attached to Jab Tak... Even if you talk about the time before Yashji’s passing away, there is a very vivid memory in mind. In 2004, when I attended the premiere of Veer Zaara, I so wanted to do the film. I wanted to be in a Yash Chopra film. It’s always been an ultimate stamp of approval for a heroine. And for me, being an outsider, it was something that I craved for. It seemed unlikely then as when I came into the industry, I was not considered the quintessential heroine. There were a lot of obstacles to overcome to actually even be able to think about me being in a Yash Chopra film. The process of this journey to get on to the set of a Yash Chopra film JTHJ has been over a long period of time — from wanting to do it, and thinking that it’s not going to happen, to actually hearing the first whispers of me probably doing his film. There are too many emotions attached to it. Now, obviously with Yashji’s passing, it’s more about the last film of India’s most loved director. That is a title which is undisputed. It’s his last piece of work.
How do you look back at the time you learnt of Yashji’s death?
A lot has been said about Yashji’s passing, the suddenness of it all. I see it in a slightly different way. I think the first two days — the day it happened and the next day, the funeral, I was very surprised at myself. Because I am very clear about things when it comes to emotions. I am very reserved, and I found myself crying so much at the funeral. Beyond just the equation we had with him, there are two things — one is that Yashji, the kind of films he made, the kind of joy he had for life, there was passion and energy. And he was there with passion and love for the industry too, not just for the love for his own films. He passed on in the best possible way. He went out like a hero. The last memory everyone has of Yashji are always vibrant and happy memories. We would have loved to have him forever, but he went out like a hero. That’s the one positive thing you can take away from it. Yashji was there, walking and the next thing, he is gone to a better place. Another thing is that the equation he shared with each of us. Like Shah Rukh (Khan) has an equation with him for 25 years. I have known him for some years as I have been working so much with Yash Raj. I am quite guarded as a person, and with Yashji it was the same. It took me a while actually to get past that barrier. And at Yashji’s age to be even caring to bother to make an attempt to get past this 28-year-old girl’s reserve, even to have that inclination, is actually very special. Everyday we would have these little conversations, and I would answer in one word, slowly it got to the point when he would walk past me and share some information that he discovered. He would be like, ‘Yes, that’s why you don’t smile when someone gives you a compliment because your mind is always worried that I shouldn’t react too happily because you fear something going wrong in life.’ So he would come up with these very interesting things, which actually made me think about it. He was a person who (I can only speak for myself) made that effort to make an equation. And I can’t tell you how nice it was when we were on the sets, because that time we were really comfortable. It was lovely.
Both Shah Rukh and Yashji have mentioned that it was very special having you in the film. That you bring a nice happy feel to the film.
With Shah Rukh, since I never acted with him before, I didn’t know how it was going to look on screen initially. But after working with him, I realised that he’s very attentive to his co-star’s performances. And since he comes from theatre, he’ll give his inputs, and doesn’t just let you be. He works on it with you. And I felt that even after so many years and so many films, he observed. Shah Rukh has another tone and pitch as an actor, which is more instinctive, but I think he actually had that insight and experience to match the performance and the pitch that I was on. He doesn’t come into a movie thinking, ‘I am Shah Rukh Khan. I’ll be the way I am and others better match up’. Even if he has to slow down or change his style or his pace, he makes sure that everyone is going in the same direction. That is what I found very unique about him.
What was more intimidating — working with Shah Rukh Khan or the veteran film-maker Yash Chopra?
There was no intimidation with Yashji. None. Yashji was this big cuddly bear. The hotel we were staying in London, there is a restaurant in the lobby, so you have to pass that to go anywhere. If Yashji was eating there, and we happened to walk past, he would invite us to join him, and we would end up eating off his plate. But with Shah Rukh, yes it was intimidating. You know in acting workshops, they do trust exercises, where they make you fall and your partner catches you, because you have to have trust in your co-star. If you are doing a film that requires you to express and to perform, in a romantic film especially, you need to trust the person. And Shah Rukh to me was a stranger on the first day on the set. So you are looking in someone’s eyes, and you have no idea, no bond, and no equation. So initially yes, it was intimidating.
Can you give us a peek into your character?
Meera is a typical Yash Chopra heroine. I think Yashji, the way he saw women, he kind of adored and respected them. He always put them on a slightly higher pedestal, and that is what comes across in his films. They are always very dignified, very strong. It’s the same with my character. She is slightly pious — religious beliefs dominate everything in her life, and her relation with family and friends. At the same time, she is ridiculously adamant. I find these kind of people funny and can’t relate to them. I believe the more flexible you are, the more you can change and adapt because I had to do that in my life. But Meera is too adamant, too strong willed and very idealistic about love. Unrealistic, perhaps. And after all that, I think, the endearing quality is that she still has the quality to realise when she is wrong.
It’s a romantic film. What’s your take on romance?
Today, relationships are so trivial, casual and convenient. They come and go and change. I think, by nature I am too much of an idealist and a romantic person in the sense that I expect and think a bit too much, which is probably unrealistic. It’s complicated. There are a lot of comparisons, beliefs and things that I have seen about love which will be hard for me, or for anyone, to break those beliefs and experiences. Love, romance is just tricky. But one thing is for sure, if you don’t have respect for your partner, you are going to have a tough time. You have to have trust in the person you love. That, I think, is very important.
How was it working with Anushka Sharma?
Very nice. Anushka and I honestly got along very well. We really had fun together. We just gelled together; it was not forced or awkward. I like the person she is, and in whatever capacity we have interacted, it was nice.
Any particular scene that was difficult to perform?
Yes, about 85 per cent of them (laughs)! There were very tough scenes, because they are understated, yet emotional. Showing emotions, yet not showing emotions, these are conflicting things. As a person, either I am silent when you won’t be able to read anything off my face, or express when I want to; there is no in-between. So these in-between things are what I find very tricky. It was definitely hard.
You’re also perhaps that rare Yash Chopra heroine to not wear chiffon saris...
I am wearing a chiffon sari, may be not in a song (smiles).
Can you tell us something about your next Yash Raj film — Dhoom 3?
It’s a big film. It’s an attempt to do something different. The story is good, which I think is very important. Unlike some big franchises, Dhoom 3 is a big attempt, but it’s too early to talk about it now. We have just started shooting, and we’ve yet to see where it goes.