Once sex symbol, now glam-mom. In her first interview in years, Kimmy Katkar opens up on her gritty fight for her son's life and life after Bollywood. For starters, she was never Kimi. "It's Kimmy Katkar. Someone spelt it wrong and it stuck. I hated it," says Katkar. She of the arched eyebrows and long legs, desi Jane to an eminently forgettable Tarzan, Jumma to a lusting Amitabh Bachchan in Hum, has just welcomed me to her home with a cool glass of iced tea. Google her and the search throws up a collection of Tarzan and Hum tidbits and a few video clips on YouTube. There is a fan asking: 'Where is Kimi Katkar?' Where indeed? "But were people looking for that answer? I don't think so!" Katkar says candidly, as she sits across me, clad in blue jeans and a white shirt at her apartment in Pune, the city that has been home for the past three years.
The sex bomb of the Eighties is now 47 and mother to a 16-year-old. She has put on a few kilos and remains a striking woman. But she seems to have happily shed the starry life. So, she shows me the exquisite embroidery she does, chats about the pastas she makes for her son's dabba or the bonsais she's trying hard to nurture and, most of all, takes me through the pages of her life through the exhaustive scrapbook she has put together of her family. It takes prodding to get her talking of her film career. "I think I left at the right time. What more could I have done after acting opposite Amit (Amitabh) in Hum? I had been modelling since I was 17. After 10-11 years of continuous work. I knew I needed to settle down," she says.
Katkar made her debut in Tarzan in 1985. While the film flopped, it got her recognition. A cache of minor and major films followed ("I have worked with every hero of my time'') till beau Shantanu Sheorey popped the question and Katkar waltzed out of Bollywood, without so much as a backward glance. "Everyone was aghast. After Hum, I had been inundated with offers of films with Amit. But I had closed the chapter when I said yes to Shantanu. In fact I had to return a whole lot of signing amounts," she says.
If Katkar oozes calm, not oomph, it's an assurance that comes of having gone through the churning of time. Katkar, you could say, has been put through the wringer. It's a story that she has been cajoled to share for the first time in all these years. Eight years ago, she packed her bags and moved from Mumbai to Melbourne. Her son Siddhanth, then nine, was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness (she requests us not to go into details because she doesn't want Siddhanth, now a strapping teenager, to be labelled by the past). When their doctor in Mumbai advised them to take him out of India to give him a better chance at life, they left for Australia, where Shantanu's brother is a doctor. "Even today when I think of that phase of my life, I shudder," she says. "You always think that these things happen only to other people and not to you," she says.
Katkar flew out of the country with just two pairs of jeans, expecting to be back in a few weeks. From an initial estimate of two months, the stay extended to five years. It was also the period that Katkar says changed her forever. "Shantanu was there but he had to shuttle between Mumbai and Melbourne. For long stretches it was just Siddhanth and I. Siddhanth started school there, along with his treatment, and we embarked on a whole new phase of life," she says.
Five years on, though the couple started to feel that it's time to move back. "Though Melbourne was beautiful, I felt I was losing my mind. Sid was also getting older and I felt he needed Shantanu to be around more," says Katkar. She was certain, though, that she did not want to be in Mumbai. She felt they needed to go to a quieter, smaller city to re-establish themselves as a family. "I came back and immediately my friends rallied around us and helped us settle in beautifully," says Katkar, who finally found the peace of mind that had been rudely snatched from her.
Does she never really miss the glamour? "I miss the money I think. But that's about it. And perhaps the designer clothes and facilities today's girls have. We would look at a dress in a magazine and ask the tailor to make it," she says. Katkar though believes actors in her time had a more distinctive look. "All the girls today tend to look the same. We may have had very limited choices for make-up, but I think we all had our individual looks," says Katkar.
The full-time mother is not in touch with anyone from the industry-though old colleagues like Jackie Shroff and Poonam Dhillon remember her as the actor who was surprisingly "just a normal girl" on sets. She doesn't even watch any of her movies. "I think that phase is over and done with. I have a movie lying around, Khoon Ka Karz, that the maids have been asking me to put on but I would much rather not. Once in a while, a channel airs a movie of mine and going to the market becomes a problem-that's about it."
So no comeback plans? "Unless there is a great role. But who is going to give me that? Then again, nowadays people are more into realistic cinema where the likes of us can fit in. I would love to work opposite Boman Irani. I think he's hugely talented. And I think the Amitabh of Cheeni Kum and Nishabd is so much better than the one in my time. Had he been like this, I wouldn't have left the industry!" she says with a laugh.
Despite her distance, she remains a Bollywood fan. "It's a fantastic place. I think for those who run it down it's a just a case of sour grapes," she says. And what about her sex symbol image? "I loved it. It just meant I was so hot," she says. While in the industry, Katkar had her share of gossip and link-ups. "As long as I was not hurting anyone, not breaking anyone's home, I couldn't care less what people said or talked. I was only answerable to my mother and she always knew what was happening in my life. Of course I had relationships but I never lived two lives," she says.
Her last brush with fame came some years ago-when she was mentioned in Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram. Katkar was in Australia then, far away from her past. A friend in Australia, who knew Katkar was an actress-"but secretly doubted it", says the actor- read the book and called her up. "She demanded to know why I hadn't told her that I knew him. It seems Roberts had dropped in on the sets in Mumbai and while my co-star Chunky Pandey was as usual strutting about like a star, I was chatting up everyone on the sets. Shataram noticed that and wrote about me later on in the book. Just goes to show one should be good to everyone in life-never know who will remember it kindly one day!" she says. That they do, Kimmy. That they still do.