On Katrina Kaif’s Birthday And Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’s Anniversary, Here’s An Ode To Laila, Who Taught Us How To Live
Birthday girl Katrina Kaif has always been the ‘aadarsh’ Bollywood heroine. It’s not necessarily a good thing, because Bollywood’s ideals are inherently flawed. She is forever flawlessly stunning, even if she’s crying or if she were dressed in a potato sack. She dances like a dream, and with her accented Hindi, can pull off glamorous roles effortlessly. But that’s not the only roles she’s good at; if you need a leading lady who can kick ass in action sequences or appear of a mixed Asian and Causcasian descent, Kat’s your girl. But the best part about her? She never steals the limelight from her male co-star, the ‘real hero’ of the film. See? Perfect. Aisi Heroine Na Milegi Dobara.Image: Excel Movies
Bollywood critics love to trash-talk Katrina Kaif, saying that “she needs to choose better roles where she isn’t playing second fiddle to the male superstar she is paired opposite”. Or “Mattel may have modelled two Barbie dolls after Kaif, but that doesn’t mean she needs to be plastic in every movie”. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done, for no fault of the actress herself. Bollywood doesn’t exactly encourage women to break the comfortable moulds it has put them into. Isn’t that why, even after showing acting potential in a movie like Rajneeti and some incredible comic timing in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Katrina Kaif is still relegated to those typical ‘leading lady parts’.
We don’t care if Sheila can act or wants to perform better. We just need ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’ to kill on the dance floor. So what does she do? She reigns in her comfort zone, becoming one of the most bankable actresses in the industry, making the most of the opportunities she’s given.
That being said, the one character of Katrina Kaif’s that has always been somewhat aspirational to me is surprisingly from a movie where the male leads are actually not the usual macho men she plays supporting roles to. In fact, one of them is comfortable (eventually) using a pink phone even though it makes him look like a Japanese schoolgirl. She changes their lives, or should I say, teaches them to really live. Normally, when a heroine in a Bollywood movie does that, it comes at great personal cost to her own hopes and dreams. She compromises or becomes a rehabilitation centre for her man. And sometimes, she is so caricaturish in her unbridled optimism that she has no consideration for the other person’s emotions and becomes annoying (I’m talking to you, Geet, from Jab We Met).
But Katrina Kaif’s Laila from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is none of that nonsense. She is lot more things first before she is beautiful—full of light, brimming with joie de vivre, adventurous and unafraid following her heart. You could say she’s stumbled upon the secret to living a fulfilling life, when she uses these words to describe scuba diving….
“Diving is like meditation. Insaan ko apni ek ek saans, ek ek pal ka ehsaas hota hai. Just imagine agar hum apni saari zindagi aise hi jee sakte. Be fully alive to each and every moment.”
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In an interview around the ZNMD’s release back in 2011, Zoya Akhtar described Katrina Kaif’s Laila as a “…free- spirited girl, a wanderer at heart and a bohemian gypsy by nature whom the three male leads Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar and Abhay Deol are quite seriously fascinated by. She inspires the boys to chase their dreams and not be afraid of reaching into the darkness to find light.”
The kind of roles that Kat usually plays in her other films seem like you could replace her with any other actress and it wouldn’t change a thing. But with ZNMD, I cannot imagine anyone but Katrina as Laila. I loved how easy-breezy she was the first time Farhan Akhtar’s Imran tries to flirt with her, and the sarcastic retort when he’s surprised she can speak Hindi!
Her chemistry with Hrithik Roshan’s Arjun is as warm and enveloping as the Spanish sun that shines on them when they kiss, right before Khaabon Ke Parindey. The song’s lyrics aptly describe the effect that meeting Laila has, not just on Arjun but also his friends.
“Roshni mili / Ab raah mein hai ik dilkashi si barsi / Har khushi mili / Ab zindagi pe hai zindagi si barsi / Ab jeena hum ne seekha hai.”
Clearly Laila was the light that they found, enlightening them with the true meaning of ‘living a life’, and a lesson that kick starts eventually brings them to confront their truths. No wonder Arjun does not want to go back to the sad existence he had prior to meeting her! Who would?
Unpopular opinion alert: I saw ZNMD in perhaps the last two weeks of its theatre run because I was out of the country when it released. There was too much hype around it and everyone ‘LOVED’ it so much, which might’ve set the expectations bar too high. My friend who accompanied me was on his second watch, perhaps hoping we both would have some shared epiphany like those ‘mantal buoys’ did in the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t dislike the movie, I thought it was really good, but not something to be so psyched about to call it a favourite years later. You see, Dil Chahta Hai was on this unshakeable pedestal in this genre, and I didn’t think this could top it off.
But Katrina Kaif’s Laila struck a chord with me and stayed with me longer than even Javed Akhtar’s poetry from the film. For the first time perhaps, I didn’t instantly focus on Katrina’s sex appeal as much as I did on her character’s appeal. I wanted to be like her… fierce, alive, unafraid of leaping from one adventure to the next, jumping on a motorcycle to go after what I wanted, and being someone that inspired others so profoundly that their lives changed. That Laila was beautiful was an afterthought for me. Her pearls of wisdom that she so simply dropped in the middle of conversations are a nice reminder these days, when the lines between work and home are blurred, that finding time to do things you love is more important that professional or financial success.
“Jab itna kuch achieve kiya hai toh kya khush ho? Agar aaj bhi kisi cheez ki kami mehsoos hoti hai toh woh kya hai. Un cheezon ke liye waqt nikalo jinse sachmuch tumhe khushi milti hai.”
You see, it is so easy to want to be like these heroines who managed to make the hero fall for them and bring out the best in him somehow. But Laila’s way was different; it was non-intrusive, subtle, patient. And yet, it felt more permanent, like on an atomic level, the way she changed Arjun.
I want to thank Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti for writing Laila the way they did. But today, as Katrina Kaif celebrates her birthday, I want her to know that Laila is a wonderful gift for her fans that keeps on giving through that infectious energy and smile and the outlook she has on life. But more importantly, I wish for more such roles to come her way, where we can see Katrina Kaif more in control of the bike than riding pillion, as she paints the town red with her acting.