Let me start with the clarification that I don't know Katrina Kaif personally at all. Never met her, never laid my eyes upon her beautiful personhood, don't know a thing about her personally. I know Katrina like the audience knows Katrina Kaif—the glittering star whose affairs we read about in tabloids and whose item numbers we dance to when we are drunk at weddings. And I've seen her gyrations improve drastically as she settled down and made Bollywood her karm-bhoomi.
I tuned into the uproar about her "honoured with the Smita Patil Memorial Award" (quoting from a news paper report) late, because I was busy dealing with a feline-related domestic crisis. Almost twenty four hours after the announcement, I saw a few Twitter mentions that tagged me and a few other actresses (my contemporaries) asking in varying degrees of rage and sarcasm why Katrina got the award when all of us were still alive and around? I shan't lie—I was rather flattered. Compliments do that, they lull us into such a pleasant feeling, that we sometimes miss all the hullabaloo and uproar in savoring the sweet words. Then I began to read more on this debate and was struck by the kind of rage and angst that this Katrina-gets-Smita-Patil-Award episode generated. I began to wonder why, and began to have that which I have increasingly less of these days (because all intellectual powers are deployed in heeling up and making 'appearances')—critical questioning thoughts. I began to ask myself, what is all this rage about?
I started with a fact check. The said award—the Smita Patil Memorial Award—is conferred by an entity known as the Priyadarshni Academy. In their own words, here is who they are:
"The Priyadarshni Academy, a prominent Socio-Cultural-Educational organization of Mumbai, has completed 19 years of public service. It is a Voluntary Organization and dedicated to the promotion of welfare of the humanity.
The Academy has been serving the society in diverse facets of public life like Education, Fine Arts & Culture, Science & Technology, Environment.
One of the Academy's foremost endeavours has been its awards function which was earlier held annually till 2004. Since then it has been made bi-annual and it is held on the 19th of September, once in two years at the Regal Room, Oberoi Towers, Mumbai. The function which is highly prestigious and well-known is an opportunity for the academy to accord acknowledgment and felicitate outstanding achievements of various individuals in their respective field of activities like literature and entrepreneurship, science and technology, environment protection, education, work in the areas of aids, drug addiction, fine arts and films."
It is noteworthy that anyone can become a 'coordinator' of this society by paying ₹11,000 and become a patron and some higher level of patron for larger sums of money. Apart from the Smita Patil award, the Global Awards also have other categories like sports and literature and so on. The Priyadarshini Academy also dabbles in laughter therapy and Vedic philosophy, have some publications and claim to give educational scholarships though details of everything on their website are rather sketchy.
But coming back to the more appealing (actually forever appealing) topic of the lovely Ms. Kaif.
What are we we intelligent articulate citizens of cyber space so agitated, angry and self righteous about?
So, some self proclaimed do-gooder-seemingly-donation-hungry-and-wealthy cultural organization, that is using the name and memory of the legendary Smita Patil (with no apparent connection to the individual or her family) to lend credibility to their own random award ceremony, gave a Bollywood A- lister an award. SO?
Ok, I get that all intelligent people love to hate on Katrina Kaif because apparently she cannot act or speak Hindi very well and yet she is so wildly successful in the Hindi Film industry. But so are a host of other perhaps even less deserving people who are wildly successful in the film industry. Heck! Forget the film industry, take a look at the corporate world, the academia, our politicians, our government... I don't know ... Donald Trump? What is the big noise about? Life is unfair, we always knew that. But it may be worthwhile to take a moment and consider our own over-the-top, ballistic reactions in cyber space.
And that's why I would like to share the reasons why I am not the least bit offended that Katrina Kaif won a Smita Patil Award.
The award is conferred by Priyadarshini Academy that is a random organization using Smita Patil's name and memory to add credibility to their private award ceremony. It is as legitimate as you believe it to be. If you are a Priyadarshini Academy patron, this award may mean the world to you, if you are like me and hadn't heard of them before, you may not care so much.
Their own description of the award on their website says that the award "is an opportunity for the academy to accord acknowledgment and felicitate outstanding achievements of various individuals in their respective field of activities like literature and entrepreneurship, science and technology, environment protection, education, work in the areas of aids, drug addiction, fine arts and films."
Whether or not Katrina Kaif is a good actor notwithstanding, there is no denying that she is a hugely hard working, disciplined and diligent person. It reflects in her work. And any artist of any field will tell you that hard work is something to be respected.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the award gives the Priyadarshini academy an opportunity..... Yes! Gives them—the Priyadarshini Academy—the opportunity to fundraise by inviting glamorous A-list Bollywood celebrities upon the promise of an honour and have their star-struck patrons interact with these celebs and continue to keep giving donations so that the laughter club and vedic research can continue. This is my hunch.
Katrina Kaif is a non-Hindi speaking, non-resident, may be/may not be Indian, who landed in the industry without any prior entitlement or connections. She started her career with forgettable appearances in films like Boom (2003), and then went on to awkwardly dance- get dubbed-dance some more though a host of films, receive the most consistent stream of criticism any actor could ever get for a decade (!) and yet just kept working. And over time cynics like me who have only ever seen her onscreen began to admit that 'damnit her dancing has improved and HOW!' The woman could groove! We watched Rajneeti and had to hand it to her to be learning those dialogues when Hindi (especially Prakash Jha ji's Hindi) in all likelihood would have been meaningless jibber-jabber to her most of her life.
Whether or not Katrina Kaif is a good actor notwithstanding, there is no denying that she is a hugely hard working, disciplined and diligent person. It reflects in her work. And any artist of any field will tell you that hard work is something to be respected. Talent and aptitude may be God given/born with kind of things, but hard work and the success that comes from it is earned. If Katrina is as successful as she is today, looks to me like she worked damn hard for it.
A lot of people will at this point say that Katrina got work in the industry because she made the right relationship with the right Big Brother. Perhaps. But again, so what? She may have landed a few roles on Salman Khan's reference but those films went on to be box office hits. That was not because of Salman Khan. That's because audiences seemed to have liked those film and that particular heroine. It's not Katrina's fault that she became the fantasy of generations of boys and men and the beauty aspiration of millions of girls in a country that was not her own. If Katrina Kaif captured our collective imagination the way Aishwarya Rai had done a generation earlier, that's not her fault, like it was not Ms. Rai's back then. If Indians are captured by a certain kind of fair-skinned beauty and Indian audiences apparently do not need their heroines to act or speak the language that they purportedly act in, that's not the actor's fault or problem. If the actor consolidates that stardom and fame and popularity into continued success, well, that is certainly to the actor's credit.
Is Katrina Kaif an easy target because she is a beautiful, hugely successful woman, who speaks with an accent, reeks of elitism and snobbery (though many who know her swear that she is by personality type intensely private, as a person), seems impermeable and most importantly, just does not quit?
There is nothing that can be called a neutral unbiased award. And awards do not have any value if the givers of the award have no credibility. Awards are only legit as long as their givers are legit. Award juries are made up of people with certain beliefs and prejudices and sometimes certain motives. These will reflect in their choices. Bollywood A-list heroines add glamour and 'prestige' to award ceremonies. In many ceremonies, stars are given awards some times random ones, made up that very year to ensure the star's attendance. Again, this reflects on the organisers of the awards, not on the stars. In all likelihood, Katrina's presence at these awards will get the organization publicity and possibly continued donations. A look at earlier recipients of the Smita Patil Memorial Award reveal that they were all Bollywood A-list heroines at various stages of public popularity. Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Karisma Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Meenakshi Seshadri, and Sridevi have all won the Smita Patil Memorial award and were/are all hardcore commercial film heroines, not necessarily offbeat or art house in their choice of films. (Maybe with the odd exception in recent years, but certainly not as career trajectory). Deepika Chikhlia, TV's eternal Sita from the Doordarshan Ramayan, won this honour in 1988 and that was her most notable work. No outrage at any of these worthy stars winning the award. So what is our special reservation and angst at Kaif winning the honour?
Is Katrina Kaif an easy target because she is a beautiful, hugely successful woman, who speaks with an accent, reeks of elitism and snobbery (though many who know her swear that she is by personality type intensely private, as a person), seems impermeable and most importantly just does not quit. She just sticks around with her accent, and apparently not great acting and just keeps getting better at dancing and developing more sculpted and developed abs; while to all the North Indian population between 14- 55 years of age the name Katrina Kaif is already an idiom. So much so that Punjabi pop hits sport lines like "Lagey Katrina tu vi key soniye.." (Jazzy B's Mitraan Da Boot)
Of course she is so easy to hate. But would we still hate her as much if she were lets see now... a smashingly good looking but below average talent male actor who was a big star? Because that's a long list too. Lets face it beautiful, successful women who are entertainers are easier targets than their male counterparts.
Are we conscientious citizens of cyber space getting carried away by our support for meaningful cinema and great art, and venting on the easiest target ? An accented, beautiful, successful woman who played the game, by the rules set not-by-herself and won. We are getting angry at the player when we should be taking another look at the rules and asking who the hell made up these rules? But i warn you, that would mean opening up a pandora's box debate about the star system and what it has shaped mainstream Bollywood into. And that's a long debate i can tell you!
Katrina Kaif may not be a great actress/ artist, but do we as an audience value great acting or great art? Let's look at the blockbuster hits of the past few years and ask ourselves what do we choose to watch, and maybe that will tell us why some apparently 'bad actors' are such huge stars. We made them. So let's not grudge them.
(And she goes back to watching Kala Chashma for ab inspiration, while eating Pringles for flab preservation)