Born in Hong Kong, Kaif and her family lived in several countries before she moved to London. She received her first modelling assignment as a teenager and later pursued a career as a fashion model. At a fashion show in London, filmmaker Kaizad Gustad spotted Kaif and decided to cast her in Boom (2003), a critical and commercial failure. While filming in India, Kaif received modelling assignments and established a successful modelling career. However, filmmakers were hesitant to cast her due to her poor command of Hindi. After appearing in the Telugu film, Malliswari (2004), Kaif earned commercial success in Bollywood with the romantic comedies Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya? (2005) and Namastey London (2007). She followed with a series of box-office hits, but was criticised for her acting, repetitive roles and inclination to male-dominated films.
In addition to acting, Kaif is involved with her mother's charity and participates in stage shows. She is guarded about her personal life, which is a subject of media scrutiny, as is her background.
Katrina Kaif was born in Hong Kong with her mother's surname Turquotte (also spelt Turcotte), on 16 July 1983. According to the actress, her father (Mohammed Kaif) is a British businessman of Kashmiri descent and her mother (Suzanne, also spelt Susanna) is an English lawyer and charity worker. She has seven siblings: three elder sisters (Stephanie, Christine, and Natasha), three younger sisters (Melissa, Sonia, and Isabel) and an elder brother, Michael. Isabel Kaif is also a model and actress. Kaif's parents divorced when she was a child, and her father moved to the United States. She said her father had no influence on Kaif or her siblings while they were growing up, and they were raised by their mother. On her father's absence in her life, Kaif stated: "When I see friends who have wonderful fathers who are like pillars of support for their families, I say, if only I had that. But instead of complaining, I should be grateful for all the other things I have". In a 2009 interview with The Indian Express, she said she was not in touch with her father.
Kaif says that her mother decided to "dedicate her life to social causes", which led to the family's relocation to a number of countries for varying lengths of time:
Our transitions in growing up were—from Hong Kong where I was born, to China, then to Japan, and from Japan by boat to France ... After France, Switzerland—and I'm cutting out many East European countries where we were for only a few months each—then Poland in Kraków ... After that we went to Belgium, then to Hawaii, which was a short time, and then came to London.
Due to their frequent relocation, Kaif and her siblings were home-schooled by a series of tutors. Although she is thought to have grown up in London, she lived there for only three years before moving to India. According to Kaif, she then changed her surname to her father's because she thought it would be easier to pronounce.
Kaif's paternal parentage has been questioned by some members of the film industry. In a 2011 interview with Mumbai Mirror, Boom producer Ayesha Shroff accused Kaif of fabricating her history: "We created an identity for her. She was this pretty young English girl, and we gave her the Kashmiri father and thought of calling her Katrina Kazi. We thought we'd give her some kind of Indian ancestry, to connect with the audience ... But then we thought that Kazi sounded too ... religious? ... Mohammad Kaif was at the top, and so we said, Katrina Kaif sounds really great". Kaif called Shroff's comments "hurtful".
At the age of fourteen, Kaif won a beauty contest in Hawaii, and received her first modelling assignment in a jewellery campaign. She subsequently modelled professionally in London, working for freelance agencies and appearing regularly at London Fashion Week. At a fashion show Kaif attracted the attention of London-based filmmaker Kaizad Gustad. He selected her for a role in the English-Hindi erotic heist film Boom as part of an ensemble cast that included Amitabh Bachchan, Gulshan Grover, Jackie Shroff, Madhu Sapre and Padma Lakshmi. While filming in India, Kaif received other offers and decided to stay in the country. In 2003, she received notice as a model after walking the ramp for Rohit Bal at the India Fashion Week and appeared in the first Kingfisher Calendar. Kaif soon established a successful modelling career in India after endorsing brands such as Coca-Cola, LG, Fevicol and Samsung.
Kaif's career as a model led to anticipation surrounding her Bollywood debut. Boom (2003) had its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and was heavily promoted at the event. Boom was a commercial and critical failure. Kaif's enactment of a supermodel ensnared in the Mumbai underworld was poorly received, with Ziya U. Salam of The Hindu attributing the weak performances of the film's leading ladies to "the vacuity of their expressions". Hindustan Times reported that after Boom's release, Kaif was written off due to her poor Hindi and thick British accent. She later dismissed the film: "I don't count Boom among important happenings in my life. When I signed this film, I didn't know much about India and its film audience". Although Kaif was offered a number of modelling assignments, filmmakers were hesitant to cast her because of her poor command of Hindi. In one instance, Mahesh Bhatt replaced her with Tara Sharma in Saaya (2003) as he found her an "inconsistent performer". Subsequently, Kaif began working on her diction through Hindi classes.
After the failure of her first Bollywood project, Kaif appeared in the Telugu film Malliswari (2004). With Daggubati Venkatesh, she played the title role of a princess forced to flee from her murderous caretaker. Kaif received a reported ₹7.5 million (US$120,000) for the film, the highest salary for a South Indian film actress at the time. Despite negative reviews for her acting, Malliswari was a profitable venture.
The following year, Kaif appeared briefly as Abhishek Bachchan's girlfriend in Ram Gopal Varma's political thriller Sarkar. She next featured alongside Salman Khan, Sushmita Sen and Sohail Khan in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya?, a film she considered her "first real step into Bollywood". Directed by David Dhawan, the film was a successful remake of the romantic comedy Cactus Flower. For her role as a suicidal model, Kaif received the Stardust Award for Breakthrough Performance – Female. According to Sukanya Verma of Rediff.com, "Katrina's Disney princess-like charm adds to her adorable screen presence". Kaif followed with a small part in her second Telugu film, Allari Pidugu.
In 2006, she appeared with Akshay Kumar for the first of many films in Raj Kanwar's unsuccessful Humko Deewana Kar Gaye, a story of two like-minded strangers who fall in love despite being engaged to others. Sify wrote that Kaif was "passably competent in a tailor-made role, giving a mild emotional spin to a couple of scenes" but was overshadowed by her supporting actresses. Kaif also appeared with Mammootty in the Malayalam crime thriller Balram vs. Tharadas, in which Rishi Raj Singh of The Hindu called her performance "marvellous".
Kaif's career prospects changed in 2007, when she appeared in four Bollywood hits. In an interview with The Indian Express, she called Vipul Amrutlal Shah's romantic comedy Namastey London a milestone, saying that "for the first time, [she] had a dominating role". Kaif used her life in London as a reference for her role as a spoilt British Indian girl intent on marrying her self-centred British boyfriend, despite her parents' disapproval. Although critics expressed mixed views on the film, Sukanya Verma wrote that Kaif "suits the role to the T" and "brings the zingy mix of her character alive with style and substance". Kaif's chemistry with co-star Akshay Kumar was particularly well received, with Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India calling their casting "refreshing".
She had a supporting role as a doctor in the sports drama Apne. The film was highly anticipated as it marked the first appearance of Dharmendra with his sons, Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol. After Apne she rejoined director David Dhawan and Salman Khan for the comedy Partner, a remake of Hitch which also starred Govinda and Lara Dutta. With a worldwide revenue of ₹1.03 billion (US$16 million), the film was a major financial success. Kaif's final film of the year was Anees Bazmee's comedy Welcome, alongside Akshay Kumar, Nana Patekar, Mallika Sherawat and Anil Kapoor. Although the film generated mostly negative reviews, it proved to be the second highest-grossing Bollywood film of 2007. The similarity of Kaif's roles was noted by Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka, who called her "unabashed eye-candy", adding that she was "a pretty prop in Welcome" and "more of the same in Partner and Apne".
In 2008, the actress had three releases, the first of which was Abbas-Mustan's action thriller Race, a story about two stepbrothers-turned-rivals who are in contention for their father's insurance money. Kaif played Saif Ali Khan's secretary, who is his stepbrother's (Akshaye Khanna) lover. Nikhat Kazmi was appreciative of the film, praising its "super cool look [and] testosterone-high action sequences" but found Kaif "too pale" in her role. After Race, Kaif rejoined Akshay Kumar in Anees Bazmee's action comedy Singh Is Kinng. The film earned ₹1.25 billion (US$19 million) worldwide, making it Kaif's sixth consecutive box-office success. However, she received mixed reviews for her performance. Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN reviewed: "Katrina Kaif is an eyesore ... her acting so weak you want to urge her to watch everyone from Madhubala to Madhuri so she might pick up a few tricks".
Kaif's final film of the year—Subhash Ghai's drama Yuvvraaj—was a major box-office failure. In preparation for her role as a cellist she practised her playing with orchestra members. Her portrayal of a girl forbidden by her father from marrying her poor lover was well received by Sify's Sonia Chopra: "Katrina is wonderful, plays the cello convincingly, and looks ethereal". Despite the film's mixed critical reception, its screenplay was added to the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its artistic merit.
Before New York, Kaif's voice was dubbed over by voice artists in most of her films due to her lack of fluency in Hindi and other Indian languages. Although she appeared in a series of successful films, critics noted that she had little to do in them as they were generally male-dominated. Her performances were also largely criticised. About her series of glamorous roles, Kaif said that her "first few films were really a process of learning ... There was no target".
After a string of films in which she was cast to add glamour, Kaif appeared in Kabir Khan's terrorism drama New York (2009). Featuring John Abraham and Neil Nitin Mukesh in lead roles, the film tells the story of how three friends' lives are changed when the former is wrongly detained after 9/11. Kaif played Maya, a college student who later marries a terrorist. The actress said that she identified with Maya, since she experienced similar isolation because of her skin colour when she was growing up in London. Kaif also remarked that she was tired of "arm candy" roles and was looking for more substantial parts. New York did well at the box office and received favourable reviews. According to Subhash K. Jha, Kaif "comes into her own as an actress of substance ... From the carefree effervescent campus girl to the anguished wife, Katrina makes the journey look plausible all the way". New York brought Kaif her first Filmfare Award nomination for Best Actress. She then appeared in a cameo for India's first underwater thriller Blue.
Kaif starred with Ranbir Kapoor in Rajkumar Santoshi's hit comedy, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009), as an orphan forced to marry a rich man. Taran Adarsh of Bollywood Hungama wrote, "Katrina Kaif continues to surprise ... She scores in both emotional and light scenes" and called her chemistry with Kapoor "electrifying". Her final film of the year was Priyadarshan's comedy De Dana Dan.
In 2010, Kaif appeared in Prakash Jha's political thriller Raajneeti as part of an ensemble cast which included Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgan, Arjun Rampal, Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai and Sarah Thompson. The film took inspiration from The Mahabharata and Mario Puzo's 1969 novel The Godfather. Set in Bhopal, the film described a fiercely fought election campaign by two parties attempting to seize power with manipulation, corruption and treachery. Although there was media speculation before the film's release that Kaif's character was based on Sonia Gandhi, the actress denied this. In preparation for her role as Indu (a politician loosely based on Draupadi), she watched Priyanka Gandhi's election campaign videos to study the body language and interaction of politicians. The film received mainly positive reviews from critics. Rajeev Masand found Raajneeti "thrilling and gripping", though Namrata Joshi was more critical and expressed her disappointment over the film's depiction of women. Nikhat Kazmi considered Kaif's performance to be "carefree and camera-unconscious" and wrote that she "seems to slip into the high-powered shoes easily". The film was highly successful at the box office, receiving a total collection of ₹1.4 billion (US$22 million).
Kaif collaborated with Akshay Kumar for the sixth time in the slapstick comedy Tees Maar Khan (2010). For her role as an aspiring actress, Kaif appeared in a popular item number titled "Sheila Ki Jawani". The song was choreographed by the film's director Farah Khan and for the belly dancing portion of the song, Kaif was trained by expert Veronica D'Souza. "Sheila Ki Jawani" was often compared to another item number released the same year "Munni Badnaam Hui" from Dabangg. Despite the song's popularity, Tees Maar Khan was panned by critics and underperformed at the box office. Kaif's portrayal was not well received; Renuka Rao of Daily News and Analysis said that her "drama queen act is performed ... poorly", but noted that she "does full justice" to the item number.
The following year, Kaif was paired with Hrithik Roshan in Zoya Akhtar's coming-of-age dramedy Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The film narrates the story of three friends on a bachelor trip, and how the workaholism of one was overcome with the help of Laila (Kaif). The film was a critical and commercial success. Richard Kuipers of Variety commented that she is "delightful as the sweet-natured girl who inspires everyone to look in the mirror and do something about it". Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was one of the most awarded films of the year and received numerous Best Film accolades.
Kaif then featured in Yash Raj Films' romantic comedy Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011) with Imran Khan and Ali Zafar, She was cast as Dimple Dixit, a "talkative", "unpredictable" girl, a role she described as challenging as the character's personality contrasted with her own. While the film earned mixed reviews, Kaif was generally praised for her portrayal. The book Mother Maiden Mistress called Dimple one of the more interesting female characters of the year and Gaurav Malani of The Economic Times said the film was watchable because of "Katrina's live-wire energy wherein she never goes overboard and keeps bustling with vivacity through the runtime". For this performance, Kaif received her second Filmfare nomination in the Best Actress category.
In 2012, Kaif appeared in "Chikni Chameli", an item number in Agneepath that incorporated dance steps from the Lavani genre (a Maharashtrian folk dance). The song was filmed over a ten-day period and, according to the actress, "It was hard work. It was very fast and it was not a style I was used to, but I took it as a challenge". Kaif appeared next in Kabir Khan's espionage thriller Ek Tha Tiger as a Pakistani ISI agent who falls in love with an Indian RAW agent. Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express wrote about her performance: "Katrina is an able, animated foil to Salman, her long legs making her leaps and kicks credible". The film received predominantly positive reviews, with Aniruddha Guha of Daily News and Analysis calling it "smart and stylish". With worldwide earnings of ₹3.1 billion (US$48 million), Ek Tha Tiger was the highest-grossing Bollywood film of the year.
That year Kaif also appeared with Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma in Yash Chopra's swan song, the romance Jab Tak Hai Jaan. About working with Chopra, she remarked that he "undoubtedly is the king of romance and I have always admired the way he presents his heroines. It was always a dream to work with him and the reality is even better". She played Meera, a woman who promises God to end her affair with her comatose lover if he survives. Although the film received mostly positive reviews, Kaif's performance had a mixed reception. CNN-IBN wrote: "Meera's role was a difficult one and Katrina falls short in emotional scenes. It seems Katrina still doesn't feel very easy in front of the camera and has difficulty with complex expressions". Commercially, the film proved a box-office hit with revenues of ₹2.11 billion (US$33 million) worldwide.
In 2013, she appeared briefly with Aamir Khan in Vijay Krishna Acharya's action thriller Dhoom 3. To prepare for her role as a circus performer, she undertook a year-long regimen of Pilates, functional training and aerial straps. The film received ambivalent reviews and Kaif was criticised for taking on an insubstantial part. Earning ₹5.42 billion (US$85 million) in box-office receipts, Dhoom 3 went on to become the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time until it was surpassed by PK in 2014.
Kaif's next appearance was in Siddharth Anand's Bang Bang! (2014), a remake of the 2010 action comedy Knight and Day. She played a bank receptionist who unwittingly gets caught up with a secret agent (Hrithik Roshan). Raja Sen of Rediff.com was disappointed with her performance, describing it as "insufferable". Although the film was commercially successful, financial analysts observed that it failed to meet box-office expectations. In 2015, Kaif's sole appearance was with Saif Ali Khan in Kabir Khan's post 26/11 counter-terrorism drama Phantom.
In 2016, Kaif appeared in two films. In Abhishek Kapoor's Fitoor, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Kaif played a role based on Estella Havisham along with Aditya Roy Kapur and Tabu. Later that year she featured in Nitya Mehra's love story Baar Baar Dekho with Sidharth Malhotra. Both films were critical and commercial failures. In a review for the former, Namrata Joshi wrote: "Katrina is good so long as she has to just be herself. So she dances, smiles and flirts well, but the minute a dramatic scene comes up, her utter inadequacy as a performer shows."
As of May 2017, Kaif has finished her shooting for Anurag Basu's comedy-mystery film Jagga Jasoos with Ranbir Kapoor. She is filming and is set to reprise the role of Zoya in Ali Abbas Zafar's Tiger Zinda Hai, the sequel to Ek Tha Tiger opposite Salman Khan. She has also committed to star as herself in Aanand L Rai's upcoming project opposite Shah Rukh Khan.
On 11 May 2017, it was announced that Kaif would be joining the cast of Thugs of Hindostan along with Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Fatima Sana Shaikh. This will be directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya.
Kaif's personal life has been the subject of extensive media attention. She is reluctant to discuss her romantic life: "I have always believed that there is life before marriage and after marriage. Before marriage ... you are termed a single woman and I choose to conduct that part of my life with absolute dignity and discretion". Although rumours of a relationship with Salman Khan first emerged in 2003, it was not until after their 2010 breakup that Kaif spoke of the affair, calling it her first serious relationship. They have remained friends, and the actress credits Khan with giving her confidence and guidance:
He’s had a huge role in my career. There’s no doubt about that. I value his opinion. But as a person, Salman has had the biggest impact on my life. I became friends with him when I was young. And his persona is very strong. If I were to look back and see his impact on my life, it’s been tremendous.
The reported reason for their breakup was Kaif's increasing closeness to Ranbir Kapoor during the filming of Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. Although this was denied by Kaif and Kapoor, the nature of their relationship was scrutinised by the media because they were thought to be involved with others at the time. In August 2013, photographs of Kapoor and Kaif on holiday in Ibiza were leaked by Stardust; the media interpreted this as confirmation of an affair. After the appearance of the photos, Kaif published an open letter to the media saying that she was "upset, distressed and invaded" by the breach of privacy. She later acknowledged Kapoor as "an extremely important part of [her] life". In February 2016, the media reported that they had broken up.
Although Kaif does not own a house in India, she has bought property in London. As a British citizen, she works in India on a visa. Kaif has a close relationship with her family, and the lack of a father figure in her life has given her a sense of responsibility towards them. While Kaif's mother is Christian and her father is Muslim, Kaif was brought up to practise all faiths and says she is a "firm believer in God". The Times of India reported in 2009 that she visits Siddhivinayak Temple, Mount Mary Church and the Sufi shrine Dargah Sharif before her films are released.
Kaif is involved with Relief Projects India, a charitable trust run by her mother which rescues abandoned baby girls and works to prevent female infanticide. Kaif's winnings from the game shows 10 Ka Dum and Kaun Banega Crorepati were donated to her mother's Mercy Home orphanage. In 2009 and 2010, Kaif also walked the ramp for charity as part of Salman Khan's "Being Human" show. To raise funds for a new school in Madurai she recorded Rhyme Skool, an album of nursery rhymes composed by A. R. Rahman. In 2011, Kaif visited sepoys in Jammu as part of NDTV's reality program Jai Jawan. The following year she visited the Cancer Patients Aid Association to gift cancer survivors and increase public awareness of breast and cervical cancer.
Kaif has also performed onstage, participating in Shah Rukh Khan's "Temptations Reloaded" world concert tour in 2008. Also featuring Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal, the tour began in Amsterdam in June and ended four months later in Dubai's Festival City Arena before an audience of 15,000. Kaif rejoined Shah Rukh Khan for his 2013 "Temptations Reloaded" concert in Muscat, performing to an audience of over 18,000. She performed with Akon at the closing ceremony of the 2009 Indian Premier League at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, and joined Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and Pitbull in Kolkata for the opening ceremony of the 2013 IPL season. In 2016, she joined other Indian celebrities for the "Dream Team Tour", where they performed in various American cities.
According to an India Today article, despite her dissimilarity to a conventional Bollywood heroine, Kaif "turned every adversity into opportunity and climbed the slippery pole of stardom". Although she is one of the most commercially successful actresses in contemporary Bollywood, she has received mixed reviews for her acting prowess. Writing for Firstpost, Anuya Jakatdar wrote that Kaif needed to "take on role[s] that actually challenge her" instead of "coasting on her co-star’s box office appeal" and criticised her inclination towards glamorous roles. Kaif's dancing ability is better appreciated, with Meena Iyer of The Times of India calling her "one of Bollywood's best dancers". Kaif's Bollywood success has sparked an influx of foreign talent hoping to establish themselves in the industry.
Kaif is cited in the media as one of India's most beautiful celebrities, and has ranked highly in polls choosing the most attractive Indian celebrities. Kaif was named the "World's Sexiest Woman" by FHM India five times from 2008 to 2013, and appeared on Verve's list of most powerful women in 2009 and 2010. The UK magazine Eastern Eye called her the "Sexiest Asian Woman" from 2008 to 2010, and again in 2013. Kaif was named The Times of India's "Most Desirable Woman" in 2010, and was later ranked second from 2011 to 2013. The Indian edition of People described her as "India's Most Beautiful Woman" in 2011 and three years later she topped Maxim India's "Hot 100" poll.
Kaif is a celebrity spokesperson for a number of brands including Slice, Nakshatra, Lux, Panasonic, Lakmé and L'Oréal. The Economic Times ranked Kaif India's second most prominent endorser in 2012. Hindustan Times reported in 2014 that she received ₹50 million (US$780,000) to ₹60 million (US$940,000) for each endorsement, making her one of India's highest-paid celebrity endorsers. In 2013, Kaif was ranked ninth on Forbes' list of India's best-known entertainers with an estimated annual income of ₹637.5 million (US$9.9 million). In 2010 and 2011, Mattel released two sets of Barbie dolls inspired by Kaif. In 2015, Kaif became the eighth Bollywood actor to have a wax figure installed at Madame Tussauds in London.