Ekta Kapoor, the head honcho of Balaji Telefilms, wouldve approved of the alphabet at work. Its a K vs K battle as the two divas currently vying for top honours are Kareena Kapoor (whod been written off this time last year) and the unlikely candidate for stardom in Hindi cinema, Katrina Kaif (whose voice was dubbed even in the recent hit Race). While Kareena can preen after the successful Jab We Met and those fat-fee endorsements and films topped with all the Best Actress trophies in town, it is Salmans girlfriend (yup, theyre still together) who has had the best hit rate in town. It was Namastey London, followed by Apne, Partner and Welcome until 2008 dawned with Race, the first big un to gallop big time to the winning post.
So are the two rivals secretly sticking pins into each others voodoo dolls?
Last weekend, at the Apsara Awards in Mumbai, Kareena was backstage looking at the monitor while Katrina was waiting in the wings on the opposite side of the stage, ready to go out there and perform her dance number. Kareena saw Kat and mouthed like a mime artiste that she looked very pretty. Kat mimed across the stage that it was a Rocky S outfit. Very nice, mouthed Kareena. Kat grimaced from the wings, dont feel like going on stage and performing while Kareena chuffed her up and said, no, you go and do it, like a silent movie heroine.
A battle out here? Unlikely. Theyre not even interested in the same guy. But off I trotted to Taj Lands End in Mumbai to get better acquainted with Katrina, the Boom girl who has so quickly hit boom time. Come to think of it, Kaizad Gustads much-rubbished Boom had three cheesy girls in the lead who seemed straight, two-piece-wearing bimbettes. But astonishingly, all three bods, Padma Lakshmi (who had the gall to date, mate, marry and dump Salman Rushdie), Madhu Sapre (who, even after marrying a firangi and relocating to Italy or wherever, is still accorded warmth and respect as a model celebrity) and Katrina Kaif have all turned out to be substantial women. No bimbettes here, please.
Certainly not Katrina Kaif who has even outgrown the tag of being Salmans girl. Meeting Ms Kaif is no dumb blonde date. It is impressively brisk, like a corporate appointment, as her business manager arrives first, laptop and two mobiles in hand, and shepherds you to a table at the coffee shop upstairs. Katrinas PRO is also there until the star arrives, saying both, Im sorry and Im starving simultaneously. Little pieces of brown bread, tiny bits from the salad counter, a full healthy plate of sushi and some coffee go down as Kat talks.
This is a confident, successful young woman at work, with her own professional team in place. Even though questions about Salman Khan always hang heavily in the air, theres plenty more to this girl. And the important point to remember is that she has made it to the top five list not because of a Boom-kind body show but because of proper mainstream Hindi cinema like Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya and Namastey London. It gives her success a certain legitimacy.
In Katrinas case, her success was not just the case of a new girl coming into the film industry and rising to the top. With a volatile boyfriend like Salman Khan by her side, producers were wary of casting her in their films. They had to be reassured that her man would stay out of her career.
Katrina is too smart not to be aware of that achievement as well as she nods, There comes a time when you become viable and people change towards you. I think thats whats happened. People are no longer wary of approaching me. Theyre comfortable working with me, theyre doing repeats with me and working with me a second time. For example Vipul Shah, after Namastey London, has cast her in Singh is Kinng.
However, for anyone who wants to know, Katrina and Salman are still going strong. If you had attended any of the trial shows of Race, youd have seen the Khan brood turning up in full strength to watch Kats big glossy film. At one show, Salmans sis Alvira Agnihotri had brought along all her childrens friends too, leaving no place for Salim Khan and wife Salma who had to catch a later show of the film!
Talk of competition. Rakesh Roshan wanted the PRO of Om Shanti Om to come and do a repeat with his film Krazzy 4. But Shah Rukhs PRO quoted such an astronomical fee that she and the money-conscious Roshan fell out over the price!
Bharathi S. Pradhan is managing editor of Movie Mag International