Katrina Kaif : A British Bollywood Barbie
Source Miss Malini
AT LONG last they found her. A girl beautiful enough to be the real-life model for Bollywood Barbie. And she's British. Katrina Kaif, formerly known as Katrina Turcotte, beat the best that Mumbai has to offer and saw off such comely competition as former Miss World Aishwarya Rai to be Mattel India's muse for the iconic doll.
News that Katrina would be following in the tiny plastic footsteps of such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor who have all been "Barbiefied" was announced at a 50th birthday party for the doll, though the Katrina version itself won't go on sale until April.
She says: "My six sisters and I shared a couple of dolls between us. We had our tea parties and our fights too but not that many considering there were so many girls. I remember on one occasion my sister Christine and I were tugging at a doll and ripped her arm off. That Barbie was never replaced, but it's a poignant memory and ironic in the circumstances."
A protracted timeline for production of the new Barbie was of no interest to the Indian media, who are much more curious about the curvaceous Briton who arrived as a complete unknown in their famed film city just seven years ago and is now the most Googled girl in town.
A fixture in the gossip columns where her love life is a constant source of speculation, Katrina Kaif, voted British magazine Eastern Eye's Hottest Woman in the World for the past three years, has effortlessly taken the fast-track to fame and is offered movie roles that might once have gone to more established Bollywood stars.
Not that Katrina, 27, is the only British actress who has sought to make her mark in Mumbai. Since the release of Slumdog Millionaire, which put India on the map in terms of worldwide audiences, an estimated 1,000 white British performers have moved to the city to find work.
There is even a Bollywood acting school at the Ealing Institute of Media in London which teaches students dance, drama and even Hindi in preparation for their shot at stardom at the most prolific production studios in the world.
A PRODUCTION starring India's most revered actor, Amitahb Bacchan (a Sean Connery/ Michael Gambon fusion) suggested promise to Katrina, but Boom, which was also a road-test for Salmon Rushdie's ex-wife Padma Lakshmi, was not well-received.
"When I signed for the film I didn't know about Indian culture and customs, " she said afterwards.
"I was living in England and it is acceptable there to show kissing and bodies in bikinis or skimpy clothes on screen, but that is certainly not the case in India. I realise that with your first film you make an intial impression on the audience. And that was definitely not the role I wanted to be seen in."
But Katrina wasn't about to let one misjudged movie stand in the way of a career in which she can now command more than £800,000 for a film and has an estimated net worth of £6 million. She knew she had the aesthetic requirements for Bollywood and just had to master the language, dancing and talent for tear-shedding.
Remarkably, Katrina has now appeared in more than 20 films and in one of the most recent, Rajneeti, she was hailed for delivering lengthy dialogue in "chaste Hindi like a lass from Uttar Pradesh", which is definitely a good thing.
"A lot of people have given me tremendous feedback and it's a new step for me in my career, " she says.
In support of their mother, Suzanne's children are unanimously vague about their different fathers. They all have Canadian accents and lived there for some time, but birthplaces also include Japan and France. Katrina who was born in Hong Kong is the only child who is half-Indian and her father, Mohammed Kaif, originally from Kashmir is a British citizen.
It's certainly a family roll-call to rival the Waltons or Von Trapps, though they have more in common with the latter for, as children, Suzanne turned them into a singing troupe and with her on guitar had them performing in orphanages all over Asia.
"We weren't very good, " recalls Christine. "When we were in Japan they found our bad singing funny, but by the time we were living in France, our audiences were less tolerant."
Home-schooled by Suzanne with the aid of American correspondence courses, the Turcotte children do not appear to have suffered for want of a conventional education.
"They are all incredibly ambitious, and no one more so than Katrina, " says Christine, who admits to being the home-body of the group. It was while the family were living in Hawaii, that Katrina, then 14, was first approached to model for a jewellery campaign.
When they returned to London she was signed to Models 1 and that continued until she was spotted by filmmaker Kaizas Gustad, who could see her potential.
"I think I have been very lucky, " she consistently tells the Indian press which documents her every move with the same dedication that the Western media pursues Angelina Jolie. "I have come from outside and I have no connections or history with the city, but I have had no problems in India. People have been more than welcoming."
Settled in the upmarket suburb of Bandra, a Bollywood star enclave, Katrina had a long-term relationship with fellow actor Salman Khan, a controversial figure who has more than a few run-ins with the law. Salman was a regular visitor to the house in Barnet, though even in the UK the couple had to shop and dine under the radar to avoid the Anglo-Indian press. Now the Bollywood rumour mill which never ceases turning suggests that Katrina is involved with actor Ranbir Kapoor.
"We're never sure what's really going on, " admits Christine who dismisses the gossip sites obsessed with her sister as "ridiculous".
MOTHER Suzanne is thrilled by her daughter's starry status in Bollywood and was hugely proud to tell staff at the duty free shop in Dubai that it was her daughter's face on their gift bags. "She didn't think they believed her, " says Christine.
Now settled in Chennai, Suzanne, together with her American partner Jesse Tincher, are volunteers for Relief Projects India and help to run The Claretian Mercy Home in Madurai for abandoned babies.
"It is one of the worst areas in Tamil Nadu for female infanticide, " explains Christine. "When you go there you see all these gorgeous little toddlers who had they not been rescued by the home would have been left to die."
Though she now lives in the same country as her mother Katrina, who is currently shooting two films, lives a million miles from the poverty of Madurai, but her profile means that a visit to the children's home generates interest that converts into financial support.
Though it's quite possible that, with a little encouragement, Suzanne could get her children to regroup as a singing troupe one last time for charity.