Can time-travel romance Baar Baar Dekho change Katrina Kaif’s image?

The film dabbles in the intriguing and challenging territory of time travel, exploring the consequences of the choices we make, against the backdrop of a love story that spans 30 years.
Katrina Kaif and Sidharth Malhotra in their new film, the romantic drama Baar Baar Dekho. Courtesy Eros International
Katrina Kaif and Sidharth Malhotra in their new film, the romantic drama Baar Baar Dekho. Courtesy Eros International

Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif has been called many flattering things throughout her 13-year career. Unfortunately, “great actress” has seldom been one of them.

Is this likely to change with the release on Thursday of her latest film, the romantic drama Baar Baar Dekho?

The film dabbles in the intriguing and challenging territory of time travel, exploring the consequences of the choices we make, against the backdrop of a love story that spans 30 years.

Produced by Karan Johar (through his Dharma Productions), Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidwani, the film is all-but guaranteed a bumper opening, thanks to aggressive marketing and promos that hint at the great on-screen chemistry between Kaif and co-star Sidharth Malhotra.

The teasers show Kaif in her most glamorous role yet, and Kala Chashma, a dance number from the film, has been viewed more than 65 million times in a month.

For Malhotra, after the success of Kapoor & Sons, a blockbuster hit is just what he needs to cement his position as a bona fide star.

Kaif has not had a significant hit since the 2013 multi-starrer Dhoom 3 – and even then, she did little to boost her acting credentials, earning praise only for her aerial stunts.

Her only other release this year, the much-publicised Fitoor, a modern-day retelling of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, barely registered at the box office.

It was Kaif’s second consecutive flop, after last year’s Phantom. This at a time when her biggest rivals, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, are earning rave reviews, winning awards and landing high-profile international projects.

Kaif is one of the highest-paid and most commercially successful actresses in Bollywood, but has often been criticised for her poor Hindi diction and inconsistent performances. She has been accused of cruising along on the strength of her good looks, and relying entirely on the acting abilities of her co-stars.

Despite a string of successes with Akshay Kumar – Namastey London, Partner, Welcome and Singh Is Kinng – in 2007 and 2008, critics have often commented on the similarities in the roles Kaif plays. Writing in news magazine Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhary described her as a “pretty prop in Welcome”.

Little wonder then, that Kaif has been keen to promote her role Baar Baar Dekho. The normally reticent and fiercely private actress has made an effort to be more accessible to her fans and the media.

This year, the 33-year-old finally made her social-media debut on Instagram and Facebook. While promoting the film, talk inevitably strayed from her work to recent upheavals in her personal life – including her high-profile split from actor Ranbir Kapoor after six years together, and rumours of an impending secret marriage.

The break-up with Kapoor came just as their film Jagga Jasoos was announced, intensifying the media scrutiny. In a rare candid moment, during a recent interview with Bollywood television journalist Rajeev Masand, Kaif spoke about the challenge of working with a former boyfriend and dealing with heartbreak, without naming Kapoor.

“It forces you to step up, and it forces you not to indulge in self-pity and feeling sorry for yourself,” she said. “It forces you to stand up quicker and get yourself together, because you want to show your best face to the world.”

Kaif is no stranger to controversy, but has always remained unflappable and dignified. As a former long-time girlfriend of Salman Khan, himself one of the most high profile and controversial actors in Bollywood, she has had plenty of training on how to avoid unwanted publicity.

Khan and Kaif remain close friends. In a 2013 interview with Filmfare magazine, she said that he had played a huge role in her career and she values his advice. After the failure of Boom, her debut film in 2003, Kaif’s big break came in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya? opposite Khan.

As a foreigner who had no Bollywood connections when she started out, Kaif is known to have relied heavily on Khan during the early part of her career, and he was instrumental in nudging her along the road to stardom.

Little is known about Kaif’s life before her Bollywood debut. Boom producer, Ayesha Shroff, and director, Kaizad Gustad, have refused to divulge how and where they discovered the star. About all that is known for certain is that her mother is British woman Suzanne Turqotte.

Kaif has said that her father is Mohammad Kaif, a British businessman of Indian descent, and that her parents divorced when she was a child.

In 2011, Shroff told the Mumbai Mirror tabloid that this was a story they made up to make it easier for a British actress to connect with an Indian audience at a time when people were less accepting of foreign actors. Kaif called these comments “hurtful”. In any case, Kaif’s father is not a part of her life, or the lives of her seven siblings.

Few people seem to truly know what goes on in the life and mind of this Bollywood star – and those who do are not telling.

Maybe it is this mystery that keeps people so fascinated by an actress who started out without any Bollywood connections and yet rose to the top – and has managed to stay there, despite what most observers perceive to be limited acting ability.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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