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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 5, Dated February 05, 2011
CULTURE & SOCIETY  
CINEMA

The mummification of Madhuri

Hanging out on the Jhalak Dikhla Jaa sets is a refresher course of the Madhuri Dixit charm. And a jolting reminder that television can make even a golden girl anodyne, says NISHITA JHA

Madhuri Dixit

PHOTO: AP

A WATCHMAN OUTSIDE Mumbai’s Filmistan studios clutches a phone that trills — Laakhon deewane tere, aashiq puraane (from the infamous Chholi Ke Peeche in the film Khalnayak) and grins at the hundreds outside Studio No. 2. In a city as blasé about spotting film stars as Delhi when being held up by political convoys, the crowd is unusual. There is no big banner film being shot inside, no Khan is about to emerge. It is the day’s second shoot for a dance reality contest, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, (based on the American show Dancing With the Stars), and with every passing moment, the crowd outside grows bigger. The studio door opens, and a woman screams, “Is that Madhuri?”

Shashi Nahata, 38, flew in from Hyderabad accompanied by her sister-in-law, mother and 10-year-old son, to meet Madhuri Dixit. “Our father who died last year would have loved to be here. We all love Madhuri but Papa was a die-hard fan. Sonu is just like him — last night he told us, ‘If she doesn’t meet me, I will stand in front of her car,” says Shashi. Sonu hugs his autograph book and stares back solemnly, refusing to affirm or deny his love.

Another couple, Suneela, 25, and Ankit Gujjral, 27, were married a day before the shoot in Chandigarh and are in Filmistan to kick off their honeymoon. “When we were dating, Tumse Mil Ke from Parinda was our song. I sang it for Suneela the night we got married,” says Gujjral. One wonders why spending the next five hours as the show’s studio audience seems like a romantic thing to do, but love sees no reason — and love for a film star even less.

In a country where people grow up on pop culture encouraging them to wear emotions on their sleeve, such adulation is not shocking. What is unusual is that in a hero-centric and youthobsessed industry, the object of this adulation is a 43-year-old woman who lives in Denver, US, who last achieved Bollywood success eight years ago (in Devdas). A monitor outside relays the audience’s wild cheering — actor Rani Mukherjee is lying on the ground, her hands folded in a gesture of genuflection in front of Madhuri Dixit Nene. Vidya Balan breathlessly explains that watching Madhuri dancing to Ek Do Teen from Tezaab was when she decided to become an actor. Right then, Madhuri walks out of the studio flanked by bodyguards — cameramen and fans alike forget about Balan, swarming around Dixit instead.

It is hard not to notice, there is something about Madhuri. While Rani and Vidya play coquettes to the cameras — giggling, bantering, chorusing rehearsed lines — Madhuri spares the cameras a shy smile before disappearing into her van.

Talking about the experience of choreographing Karisma Kapur and Dixit in Dil To Pagal Hai, Shiamak Davar had said, “Lolo’s the better dancer but you can’t take your eyes off Madhuri. She’s all woman.” Like any woman, Madhuri knows the importance of keeping her lovers waiting, and, more importantly, the importance of keeping them at arm’s length, where they can’t pick at flaws. She is helped in this by the grim-faced Rakesh Nath, her agent since her first film.

Madhuri was high priestess of an era when stars were allowed their mystique, before Facebook and Twitter afflicted us with oversharing. When producer Subhash Ghai launched her in Bollywood, he issued full-page ads in trade magazines, heralding the birth of a star, revealing only her face and name. Although herj debut bombed, there is scarcely anyone that does not have a favourite Madhuri number etched in adolescent memory.

Stepping up Madhuri Dixit Nene on the sets of Jhalak Dikhla Jaa

Stepping up Madhuri Dixit Nene on the sets of Jhalak Dikhla Jaa

PHOTO: MS GOPAL

While this image of the eternal feminine is responsible for her lasting allure, it is also Madhuri’s undoing. She entered Bollywood in a period of lull — before the Khans emerged, when producers were still looking to replicate the Bachchan magic. While most of her co-stars (like Anil Kapoor and Vinod Khanna) were successful actors; it was the popularity of song-anddance sequences that gave actresses equal screen time. As a result, in spite of stellar theatrical performances like her role in Beta (a film that critics privately rechristened Beti), what we remember is Madhuri in a golden choli, her bosom heaving to dhak dhak.

Even on sets, it is evident that Madhuri belongs to a different era. For one, she is never late. Seated between choreographer Remo D’Souza and Malaika Arora Khan, she is mostly quiet through their repartee and high-fives. Yet, the moment a dancer takes the stage, Madhuri is transformed into a cross between a proud sibling and a patient dance teacher. When Yana Gupta performs acrobatic daredevilry, Madhuri flinches visibly. While Malaika and Remo have little to say to boxer Akhil Kumar for his uncoordinated steps, Madhuri cajoles gently — “When you box, do you count the number of swipes or the number of times you connect? I’m waiting for you to connect with me!” She has advice or an anecdote for every performer, which, combined with a natural warmth, makes her everyone’s favourite judge.

Sitting on the fluffy couch of a fluffier show, Madhuri’s middle-aged co-star Sanjay Dutt said she was too old and should “go home and take care of the kids” instead of trying to make a comeback. While we are willing to love ageing heroes and write characters around them, it will be some time before we can do the same for our actresses. In spite of the fact that her cojudge on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, Malaika, is also a mother of two, there is a vast difference in how the audience responds to them. In nearly every episode, the audience begs Madhuri to dance on stage. Her fluid grace and perfect expressions elicit nostalgic head-shaking and applause. But immediately after, the audience demands a follow-up by Malaika — greeted with cat calls and an incessant demand for encores. Madhuri no longer fits in with the modelprototype heroines that strut around our screens. Like a cryogenically frozen sweetheart, we’ll love her forever, but she will not cause our pulse to quicken ever again.


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 5, Dated Feb 05, 2011
 

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