Magic of Madhuri Dixit: But still waiting for her own ‘Mother India’

Always a star and never a yaar, she remained largely aloof in Bollywood and did not always choose her roles well

Madhuri Dixit
Madhuri Dixit

Subhash K Jha

She turned a year older on May 15. It’s hard to imagine Madhuri Dixit turning 55. There is a quality of ageless wonder about her persona which the years have not diminished.

I remember how upset Madhuri was with me when I first met her. A mutual friend, director Prakash Jha, who was doing Mrityudand with her warned me that she was in a militant mood.

But within a few minutes, the ice melted. And Madhuri confessed, “I was upset about something you wrote about my choli ke peeche song,” before rushing off to give a shot with Salman Khan and Aruna Irani for a terribly funny death scene. Funny, because the sobbing and whimpering junior artistes would burst into peals of laughter the minute the director shouted ‘cut’.

That encounter with Madhuri Dixit remains memorable for a reason. After I had completed my interview with Madhuri in her makeup room, we discovered, to our embarrassment, that the door had been bolted from the outside.

After much shaking and rattling, someone outside finally heard us. Salman Khan was grinning from ear to ear. As Madhuri stormed towards her co-star to confront him, I drove away with a smile.

After her surprise marriage, I was one of the first to congratulate her.

Madhuri never sounded happier. As she spoke about what the heart surgeon had done to her heart, I couldn’t help but wonder if she would make as successful a post-marriage career for herself as Sharmila Tagore. In spite of her sizzling songs and dances, Madhuri’s career was never dictated by oomphy conventions of celluloid success. To audiences, she was always the consummate screen queen, the first among the equals who found her way into the cinema of the post-Sridevi generation.

Unfortunately, her selection of roles has always left much to be desired. Madhuri turned down Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s offer to play the deaf-and-mute Annie in Khamoshi: The Musical, because she wasn’t convinced by the character.

Where’s that one Mughal-e-Azam in the neo-Madhubala’s career? I think it’s on the way. Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja and Pukar gave Madhuri a chance to dazzle alongside a gallery of other screen queens.

But it was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas which immortalised Madhuri. She was cast as the silent giver Chandramukhi, who nurtures, adores, loves and finally leaves Devdas, knowing all along that he loves another woman. Madhuri looked, dressed and danced like a dream.

Madhuri ne maar daala. She killed it.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who has been a Madhuri fan ever since he can remember, still can’t stop raving about her. What M F Husain couldn’t do for his muse in Gaja Gamini, Sanjay Bhansali did for his in Devdas.

I remember how aloof Madhuri seemed on the sets of Devdas. While Aishwarya mingled, laughed and pranced around, Madhuri sat alone. I remember going up to her with a polite smile to ask if I can sit next to her.

“Well, no one else (is) sitting there,” she replied.

I’d never know if that was a snub or an invitation. Maybe Madhuri doesn’t like company on the sets. She always kept her distance for sure. And she never allowed over-familiar behaviour.

I respect her for her professionalism. But did she make many friends in Bollywood while she was here? She was always aloof, the star rather than the yaar. As a kalaakar, I thought she had a long way to go.

Sure, she gave the hits. But has anyone seen the way she was presented in her most successful films? Barring Bhansali’s Devdas and perhaps Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand, all the directors she worked with camouflaged her considerable facial beauty in acres of muck.

Madhuri was meant to be a diva, not a mannequin. She thought she chose her roles well. But she didn’t. Turning down Bhansali’s Khamoshi: The Musical only because he was a new director was a huge mistake. She made the new director wait for hours on end for days. She wouldn’t even open the door of her makeup room to let him say ‘hello’. Finally, she said ‘no’.

Much later I asked her why. “I couldn’t relate to the character of the normal girl with deaf and mute parents,” she confessed. Yeah, right. Much easier to relate to the girl in Indra Kumar’s Dil or the daughter-in-law in Beta.

She also lost Vinod Chopra’s 1942: A Love Story over a monetary issue. Money, I guess, was always an important factor for her. Nothing wrong with that.

But I am still waiting for Madhuri to do her Mother India.Or at least her Gangubai Kathiawadi.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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