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Breaking hearts in Kashmir

Being someone who is often questioned by journalists about her private life rather than her professional work, Kaif is extremely cautious.— Photo: Special arrangement  

It has been over a decade since Katrina Kaif was introduced to Indian audiences with Kaizad Gustaf's film Boom . She has acted with the biggest stars in Bollywood, and in films which have gone on to become blockbusters. Yet Kaif, who moved to Mumbai from London, continues to draw criticism for her accent. The outsider status somehow refuses to leave.

Perhaps this is something that happens to all who look for home in foreign lands. Even as they work to integrate themselves into their new environments, they keep being reminded that they belong elsewhere. It is oddly serendipitous that the book I am reading while waiting to interview Kaif is called The First Firangis . Written by Jonathan Gil Harris, a New Zealander who shifted base to India, it tells stories of artists, courtesans, poets, healers, charlatans and many others who migrated to India over the centuries. And they found both employment and fame.

Kaif, like Harris, is a 21st century firangi . The actor’s approach to her situation is more practical than philosophical. “This is my industry. This is where I live. I don't know anything else now,” she says. “Like any other profession, there are ups and downs, easy times and difficult times. You can choose to get affected, or just keep working hard.” As her film Fitoor inches closer towards a February 15 release, her posters are all over the city. This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor features her in the role of Firdaus, a character modelled after Dickens’s Estella. Previous cinematic adaptations of the literary classic have had actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Holliday Grainger, Vanessa Kirby, Valerie Hobson play Estella.

Kaif is glad that she was offered an opportunity to step into Estella’s shoes. “The book and the film clearly establish Estella and Firdaus as women who are emotionally unavailable and unattainable,” ‘she says. “It is always hard to tell why someone is madly in love with someone else. But when you fall in love with such women, desire can become an obsession. Also, their mothers use them as objects to seek revenge, to break hearts.”

In Fitoor , the role of the mother is played by Tabu, a versatile actor who has always been adventurous in her choice of assignments. Aditya Roy Kapoor, the aashiq from Aashiqui 2 plays Kaif's love interest.

Kaif shot for the film in Kashmir, Delhi and Mumbai. With her fondness for the mountains, she fell in love with Kashmir instantly. “We went to Kashmir in winter. It was full of snow. I had the most romantic time there. It is a wistful place, with an unforgettable kind of beauty. There is a poetic quality about it.”

Often questioned by journalists about her private life rather than her work, Kaif is extremely cautious. She is diplomatic to the point of being as mechanical in her responses. For instance, she is reluctant to speak about the political situation in Kashmir even though Fitoor is set there.

Kaif has also acted in films like Ek Tha Tiger and Phantom , which engage with the India-Pakistan conflict.

However, she refuses to comment on the matter of why Pakistani actor Imran Abbas did not eventually join the cast after months of the film's crew waiting for him to get a visa to shoot in Srinagar. Abbas has gone on record saying that he was not granted a visa because he is a Pakistani national, and Srinagar is part of India Administered Kashmir. He is part of Karan Johar’s film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil with Ranbir Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, Anushka Sharma and Fawad Khan, to be released later this year.

However, Kaif says, “Who is this actor? I don't know about him. It is better for you to discuss this with my director. We got amazing support from the government, the military, and the people of Kashmir. I have not an iota of complaint.”

Place for ordinary people

She hopes that Fitoor will enable audiences to see Kashmir beyond tourism and terrorism, that it is a place, instead, where ordinary people live. “I see Fitoor more as a story about issues like class divides and parental pressure, which are very relevant to our society. These may not be as pronounced in other countries. But anyone in India can relate to them easily.”

It is a bit surprising to hear that Kaif imagines the relative absence of class divides in other countries, especially because her mother has been a charity worker. London itself, the city Kaif used to call home, is grappling with problem of homeless people. And the United Kingdom's response to the refugee crisis has been far from satisfactory.

However, as Kaif says, her world now is Mumbai's film industry. It is perhaps a bit ambitious to expect her to have the pulse of what is happening on the street.

The author is a freelance writer who tweets: @chintan_connect

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 10:38:50 PM |

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