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By Saibal Chatterjee December 29, 2017
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Will Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif’s new blockbuster sequel Tiger Zinda Hai, in which she stars opposite Salman Khan, put her career back on an even keel?

Blockbusters are the blocks with which Katrina Kaif has built her Bollywood career thus far. In terms of potential, there has been none bigger than Tiger Zinda Hai, a sequel to Ek Tha Tiger, an espionage thriller which, in 2012, set the ball rolling for what could be a lucrative franchise. The film had the actress in the role of a Pakistani spy Zoya opposite Salman Khan’s wily and invincible Indian secret agent, the Tiger of the title. The two characters fell in love with each other while out in the field serving their respective countries.

The follow-up, targeted primarily at fans of Salman Khan, goes a step further. Tiger and Zoya are now married and are parents to a son who is growing up in Austria. Their tranquil life is disrupted when a group of Indian and Pakistani nurses are taken hostage by terrorists in an Iraqi hospital and the male protagonist is forced out of hiding.

Soon enough, he is joined on the mission by his combat ready wife. Will the couple of action sequences that Katrina has in Tiger Zinda Hai help her get her career out of the trough? She desperately needs a professional fillip and this is the film that could be just what the doctor ordered.   

When Anurag Basu’s whimsical and strikingly original Jagga Jasoos failed to connect with the audience and bombed at the box office earlier in 2017, it was as much a setback for the film’s lead actor Ranbir Kapoor as it was for Katrina, whose career has tended to orbit principally around the three Bollywood Khans — Salman, Shahrukh and Aamir — and Akshay Kumar.

Films that Katrina has done with the Mumbai movie industry’s younger actors have tended to underperform at the box office. Releases like Fitoor (2016), a reworking of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations set in Kashmir and co-starring Aditya Roy Kapoor, and Baar Baar Dekho, in which her male co-star was Sidharth Malhotra, performed no wonders at all, leaving Katrina’s career a bit in the doldrums.

In 2014, Bang Bang, an action flick co-starring Hrithik Roshan, wasn’t as big a commercial success as it was expected to be. Katrina’s sole solo release of 2015, Kabir Khan’s counter-terrorism drama Phantom, with Saif Ali Khan, received mixed reviews.

She has, over the years, delivered hits with Ranbir (Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, 2009) and Hrithik Roshan (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, 2011) just as she has seen reverses with Salman Khan (Subhash Ghai’s Yuvraaj, 2008) and Akshay Kumar (Farah Khan’s Tees Maar Khan, 2010). Similarly, Ali Abbas Zafar’s Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011), in which Katrina played a runaway bride in a cast that included Imran Khan and Pakistani actor-singer Ali Zafar, was a resounding box-office hit.

Her performance in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan as a garrulous, temperamental girl earned her positive critical notices as well, which contrasted with the fact that she has generally been seen as a female star who figures in male-dominated productions. Critical skepticism also stemmed from her lack of fluency in the Hindi language, which necessitated her voice being dubbed in all her films until director Kabir Khan, who went on to direct her in Ek Tha Tiger, made her speak her own lines in the thriller New York.   

Katrina’s Bollywood fortunes have been undermined in great measure by her choice of films. She has rarely focused her attentions on author-backed roles, choosing instead to seek percentage in outright potboilers. Films like Ram Gopal Varma’s political thriller Sarkar or Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti have been few and far between. As a result, Katrina’s progress in the industry has hinged almost solely on the box-office performance of her films.

At 34, she isn’t getting any younger. Her contemporary Deepika Padukone, three years her junior, has played her cards very differently and carved a niche for herself as an actress who can be depended upon to pull off complex roles. The much younger Alia Bhatt, too, has quickly grown to occupy pretty much the same ‘serious’ space. Katrina has lagged behind somewhat in this respect.

Not that she hasn’t had her highs. After delivering one of her early hits in Namastey London with Akshay Kumar, she went on to figure in several more films in which she co-starred with the same actor to achieve the same degree of commercial success.

If Tiger Zinda Hai wraps up Bollywood’s 2017 with a bang, Katrina will obviously be back in business. That will put her career on an even keel again: for her, 2018 promises to be better than any year she has had since 2007-2008, when she was part of a string of superhits — Partner, Welcome, Race and Singh is Kinng, besides Namastey London.

None of these films pleased the critics too much, but that made no difference to the way they fared in commercial terms. They found ready takers among the masses, turning Katrina into the industry’s most-loved diva. She sustained that status for several subsequent years until the likes of Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone either caught up with her or even eclipsed her.

The coming year, which will see her feature in two of the biggest releases — Thugs of Hindostan, a Yashraj Films production directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, and Aanand L. Rai’s yet-to-be-titled film in which Shahrukh Khan plays the lead role of a dwarf, could give Katrina a new lease of life.

Thugs of Hindostan has the makings of a blockbuster like no other. Its director is the man who cast Katrina as a circus performer opposite Aamir Khan in Dhoom 3. In the upcoming film, too, the actress will be romancing Aamir. The fact that the cast of Thugs of Hindostan is headed by Amitabh Bachchan and includes Fatima Sana Sheikh, Aamir’s Dangal daughter, is the icing on the cake.

Before 2018 draws to a close, Katrina’s fans will also be treated to a film that repeats the cast of Yash Chopra’s swan song Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Besides SRK, the Aanand L. Rai production also features Anushka Sharma in a stellar role. So nobody can dare write her off. Not as yet at any rate. Katrina zinda hai.         
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