This isn’t a gift for Katrina in that she can read about her life, she knows her life. This is to make everyone who reads it a little more sensitive and respectful towards her. I know that was my experience writing it, I went from being neutral on Katrina to truly respecting her.
Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge, everything I am saying may or may not be true. All I can do is repeat But at least it will give you a starting point.
Katrina Kaif’s story is, inevitably, also Salman Khan’s story. The more I write about her and read about her, the deeper and closer their connection appears. They will probably never marry, may never have a romantic relationship again. But there is something there, some ways that they each fill each others lives which are never going to go away. I didn’t realize how true that was until I saw her life written out and read her words.
In 2003 when Katrina was very young, she arrived in Bombay, having been discovered in London, and was cast as beautiful eye candy in a small odd film produced by Ayesha Shroff (Jackie Shroff’s wife), Boom. The movie flopped, but Katrina had been noticed by a Telugu producer, she was given a love interest role in a Telugu film, Malliswari. Not unusual, Telugu heroines are usually dubbed so hiring a woman who doesn’t even speak Telugu just to look good and dance a little is common. And in that movie, she was noticed by a director who crosses between Telugu and Hindi, Ram Gopal Verma. He liked taking new talent and molding it to his vision, and he wanted a beautiful international feeling woman for his next film. So Katrina got her first substantial role in her third movie, Sarkar. By the time Sarkar released there was already talk about Katrina being the new girlfriend of controversial top star Salman Khan. No one was surprised when she was announced as the second heroine in Salman’s next movie, produced by his brother Sohail, Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya.
Katrina had two more southern films that dribbled out after Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, but they had been filmed earlier. After Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, she had arrived and it was all leading roles in top films from then on. She was not regarded generally as a good actress, but she had striking looks and a different feel on screen, and her personal life gave her a fame beyond her career. She rapidly signed multiple endorsement deals and became a familiar face on billboards and magazine and TV ads through out India. And her movies kept hitting, she became known as “lucky”. Hire Katrina and your film will have good luck. She also became known as a surprisingly good girlfriend to Salman. Despite the massive age difference, and her status as a white outsider, which made her look like merely a rebound affair after his grand passion for Aishwarya Rai. But then Salman went to court, and jail, for his pending poaching case and Katrina was there. Not made up and fancy for the paparazzi, but quietly and faithfully in the background. His family adored her, she was regularly seen going in and out of the family home. And while there were stories of fights on set and off (a fight at her birthday party supposedly started the Shahrukh-Salman feud), she generally felt like a good influence, a calming influence.
Her first big public scandal hit in 2009, she was filming a movie with Ranbir Kapoor and it was rumored that they were having an affair, meaning Katrina was cheating on her famous boyfriend Salman and Ranbir on his famous girlfriend Deepika Padukone. At this point it was unclear what Salman and Katrina’s status was, she was still very close to his family and they were still seen together, but the occasional comments in interviews that confirmed-without-confirming a relationship had slowed down. However, Deepika and Ranbir were still definitely together. The popular version is that Katrina flew to America to visit Ranbir on the set of Anjaana Anjaani, which he was filming with Priyanka, and Priyanka called up Deepika and told her. That could be completely made up, but it is certainly true that Deepika and Ranbir broke-up around then.
In 2013, Katrina had her second big scandal when photos of her in a skimpy bikini on a beach with Ranbir in Spain showed up in the press. While she and Ranbir had long been known to be dating, they had never confirmed it. A bikini that small was a shocking thing in the Indian context. And so was an overseas vacation with a man to whom you were not married. The photos became a 9 days wonder in the Indian media.
Salman leaped to her defense, saying
If such pictures of your’s, your mother’s or sister’s would be out in the media how would you feel? even if your boyfriend’s such pictures came out would you like it? If you will not like such things, others won’t like it too. What we do in films is a different matter, but exposing one’s personal life in this manner is not right, you do not have any right to do something like this.
Ranbir was slower to respond, remarkably silent, and finally issued a tepid statement:
Us picture main Katrina Kaif bahot hi sundar lag rahi hai aur Ibiza bhi bahot hi sundar jagah hai. Please jaake aap visit kijiye, Main toh Ibiza main tha na… Main photo dekh ke maza kyu karu? Main toh Ibiza main maza karunga. (Translation: Katrina looked really beautiful in those pictures and Ibiza was also beautiful. You should go visit the place. I was in Ibiza, so what should I enjoy in those pics? I will enjoy in Ibiza right?)
Katrina tried to handle it calmly, she was promoting Dhoom 3 and unable to avoid questions:
“Next time when you all plan to take pictures give me a notice. Red doesn’t look good with white (regarding the colour of her bikini)… I will wear matching next.”
In 2014, Ranbir moved into Kat’s apartment in Bandra, complete with a house warming party. Katrina was seen spending more time with his parents (something that had not been the case before). Rumors of a marriage were flying, the press claimed to even have a date and that invitations were ordered. Ranbir was producing his first movie, Jagga Jasoos, and cast himself and Kat as leads. And then Ranbir moved out of Kat’s apartment and into his grandmother’s house. Filming on Jagga Jasoos stopped abruptly and restarted months later. Meanwhile, Ranbir signed a movie with Alia Bhatt and did a promotional photo shoot and rumors immediately started that he had left Kat for her. No one really believed it, Alia was thought to be dating Sidharth Malhotra at the time. Ranbir was publicly single for a long time. And then, 3 years after the initial Alia rumors, he and Alia announced they were in a relationship after all. Katrina has been single publicly since Ranbir. She has remained extremely close with Salman Khan and his entire family since 2003, occasionally that closeness has given rise to rumors that she and Salman are getting back together.
All of this, everything since Boom, is documented and public and well known. We may not know details like whether she and Ranbir had really ordered wedding invitations before the break up, but we know they were living together. And we know they were together from some time in 2009 to 2014. And in the same way, we know she and Salman were definitely together from at least 2003 to around 2008.
We also know that people in the industry generally like her. When she started, she was getting roles that any white-looking woman would get. Meaning, any model just arrived in Bombay could have done those parts equally well. But directors and producers and co-stars over and over again chose Katrina. She works hard, she gets along with everyone, and she really does have something special that comes across on camera. And she is not ashamed or afraid to take a simple “heroine” role, one of the few famous actresses who is still happy to play the love interest instead of worrying about her career and her future.
I found a wonderful article about her from back in 2008, when she was established and working hard. And she is very honest in it that she does not plan a future as an actress. She wants to take care of herself and her family, build stability, and the way to do that is to work as hard as possible and as much as possible right now, while she can.
To get there, if I have to do films that involve four songs and not playing a character that will go down in history, so be it. At 40, when my career span is done, I don’t want to say, I don’t have a house and I don’t have any money, but it’s okay because I didn’t play any so-called bimbo…. It takes intelligence to recognize that cinema is just cinema. My mother never planned materially for the future. But I feel the need to stabilize myself. I need physical security — I can’t roam around and say, oh, we’ll all be fine. I need to work on building security for my sisters for sure. I could not go to film school, but I want to ensure my sister can.
In another interview from 2010, she talks honestly about the opportunities she has been offered and how she is well aware that her only qualifications are a pretty face and a willingness to work hard, but also how strange it is that she is never given credit for the good work she does, it is always given to the script, the director, her co-star, and Katrina just “benefited” from their talent:
The way I see it is that there must be so many people who are genuinely beautiful, genuinely fantastic dancers, fluent in Hindi, also with acting training, who must also be looking at me from time to time and asking – how has she got these positions and these chances and we have not? Those people must be feeling very undercut.
So, when I see the situation from that way, I see that the point you are making – which is a valid point – I still, even though I know the language, I still have an accent when I dub the films…In Raajneeti there’s a faint accent, I’ve worked hard, but it’s still there. Even with these things, the industry has – even if, as you say, reluctantly – has accepted me, I work with the biggest directors, the biggest people.
But there are moments when I sometimes feel that, when I see if some people are doing good work, and are being celebrated for their wonderful performances, even if the films have not done so well – I find myself asking my friends and colleagues that I hope I am given that same kind of…leeway.
Katrina appears as an empty pretty face, but if you go below the surface, find the few interviews where she really opened up about her inner thoughts, there is a lot more there. And suddenly her 16 year close relationship with Salman Khan looks less like an older man picking up a beautiful young woman and more like two people whose mental ages and experiences are far more similar than pure age would show. And her relationship with Ranbir appears doomed more than ever, how could someone who looks at film as a way to find artistic fulfillment ever build a life with a woman who looks at it as a way to pay her sister’s college tuition?
How did Katrina get this way? Who was she before she burst into India as a teenager from nowhere? The most fascinating part of her history is that no one really knows her history.
Katrina’s version in interviews is vague. But, as she explains, her life before India was so strange and confusing that it is vague even in her own mind. She was born in Hong Kong to a woman who is from Bath, England. They went from Hong Kong to China, then China to France, then Switzerland, then Poland. All of this in the early years of her childhood, before she was 10. They lived briefly in Hawaii, where a scout saw Katrina and she did her first modeling. There were more places they lived during that time, Katrina occasionally mentions them, but also says that they didn’t live there more than two months at a time. Then they moved back to London and lived there for 3 years. It was in London that she was spotted by a producer and brought to Bombay to make Boom. And for the past 17 years, Katrina has lived in Bombay. She bought an apartment in Bandra (near Salman’s family), and she has friends and a life. Stability, finally.
Why did Katrina move around so much as a child? What was her mother doing all that time? And where did her many siblings (6 or 8 depending on which source you read) come from? And who was her father?
This is where we get into the realm of deep dark rumors, not official statements from Katrina. The official version is simply that her mother wanted to do good works in the world and chose to live her life in service, which is fine but not really clear. Some articles refer to her mother as a lawyer, which could also be true, but you can’t be a lawyer internationally so she wasn’t doing that as they traveled the world. What is also known is that Katrina had a large number of siblings with ages spread out over 10-15 years. That there was no father figure in her life as a child.
Katrina’s “father” himself is a bit of a figure of myth. In an early interview, Ayesha Shroff directly says that they made him up. Katrina’s last name was “Turcote”, but she looked possibly Indian and they thought it would be good to give her an Indian backstory. So they picked the name “Kaif” based on a popular athlete of the time and made her Kashmiri. Kashmir is the area of India with the most naturally pale population, and an area that (thanks to political turmoil) it is natural to have folks that disappeared a bit. Not killed or lost, just left home and never came back. Ayesha describes picking the name at random, but since then Katrina has been very firm about her father being Kashmiri, although she has no memories of him. She has never claimed any connection to an Indian heritage, simply that her biological father was from Kashmir originally. Both these things could be true, perhaps Katrina’s father was Kashmiri, but she didn’t have a name for him or know anything about him. Ayesha helped her invent a name that sounded good to go with the simple fact she already knew, that he was Kashmiri.
The rest of Katrina’s family is not mythical, but they are private. She has said in interviews that she feels her siblings are not public figures and should not be photographed, so she requests the media and fans, when they see her with them, to wait until they are out of frame before taking photos. The exception to this is her younger sister Isabelle, who stayed with Kat in India as her assistant, appeared with her at events, and attempted an acting and modeling career. She has a small role in an English language movie produced by Salman and featuring a primarily American cast, Dr. Cabbie.
And then there is the rumor. The rumor is that Katrina’s family was part of The Family International, the cult previously called Children of God. It is a Christian based cult formed in the 1960s, which spread rapidly worldwide. They use commune houses all over the world to shuffle followers back and forth and avoid legal supervision. They are also sex friendly, and unfriendly to traditional family structures. Spouses are not necessarily encouraged to be faithful to each other, children might be separated from their parents and kept with other children. The worst stories about them revolve around sex work and child sex abuse. Followers were encouraged to use “flirty fishing”, young women were sent out to flirt with men and have sex with them in order to get them interested in the cult. And children were sexually abused by their parents and other adults around them, since all sex was supposed to be good and loving. The Family officially disavowed these practices years ago, and it is hard to know whether or not they continue. What is true is that The Family International runs group homes all over the world, actively tries to recruit new members and, once you join, your life is controlled by the cult.
This would answer several questions about Katrina’s past life. Her mother’s many children with no father present, their constant travel, Katrina’s vagueness about her memories. And her mother’s current charity work in India which is rumored to include religious proselytizing.
But then, it is also just a rumor. I tracked it over the internet including on some message boards for The Family International. These are really nice message boards, set up so that people trying to escape or worried about how to save their relatives can find help. The response there was “can anyone confirm this so we can help her?” essentially. And no one could. If this were a different kind of rumor, I would say the lack of confirmation means it is false, because there would simply be too many people and too much evidence for it not to come out. But since it involves a cult, where the rules of secrecy are so extreme, it is possible for it to be true and all the many many people who know the truth of it are unable or unwilling to confirm it.
What is true is that Katrina is living her life independently now, not as part of a group home or under some sort of control, and so are many of her siblings. If there was cult life in their background, it is not there now. And if Katrina chooses not to discuss this part of her life, or not to cut her mother out for still living that life, that is her right.
It is also of course possible that her childhood was like that simply because of who her mother was. I have known women in my life who loved having many children, and loved traveling, and loved doing good, and that is what they did with their time. Perhaps Katrina’s mother felt a burning need to see the world and do things, and so as a young woman she left England. Perhaps she picked up partners as she traveled, had children with them, and then their lives lead them to separate while she remained the sole parent to her children. Perhaps as her children grew older and so did she, she decided to return to her home of London and settle. All of this could be true just as easily as The Family International version.
Mostly dipping in to Katrina’s past made me appreciate even more how far she has come, and understand better what a blessing the Hindi film industry has been to her, why she is so committed to it. She didn’t make a “new home” in India, she found her first home ever. In Salman’s family, she found the first stable family she had ever known. And her relationship with Salman was the first time she felt truly happy and safe and loved.
That’s something else Katrina talks about in interviews, that she felt like she finally had the joy and freedom of childhood and being a teenager in her 20s in India. Ayesha Shroff, in her interview, refers to how she doesn’t want to say what Katrina was doing before she was discovered. The implication is that she was doing escort work or something similar. It could be true, or it could not be true. What I do believe is true is what Katrina says, that she never had a romantic relationship with anyone before Salman. She had a strange childhood, then she was an awkward teen who didn’t fit in, and then she started working crazy schedules as soon as she was half grown up. Living in India, having fun, being loved, she was getting back her childhood.
Maybe that is what we are seeing onscreen, that is what makes her feel special? And maybe that is what makes her special for the people who choose to work with her? This person has experienced so many strange things in life, that the normal parts of it, falling in love and having friendships and a home and parents, that is what is exciting for her. There is a strange kind of openness, naivete, and joy that comes across. She is joyfully average.