Madhuri Dixit turned 52 on May 15, 2019. Happily, she continues to inspire breathless rhetoric. A sizeable chunk of the youthful participants who attend my media workshops are her avowed aficionados, and one particularly ardent devotee, Aniket, exclaimed on Facebook: “She can turn ordinary movies to hits, barefoot painters into directors and a 5-year-old into a film buff. Shucks, I love her.”
When I read these outpourings of praise, it enthused me to tell the Madhuri story from my perspective based on my many interactions with her spanning 31 years.
On October 1, 1988, I became the Editor of Movie magazine; and within a heartbeat, on November 11, Madhuri Dixit became a star with the smash hit, Tezaab. This was a remarkable reversal of fortunes for her after a series of forgettable films (Abodh, Swati, Awara Baap) and after even the big banner Dayavan (Feroz Khan, Vinod Khanna) had been unable to give her career the much-deserved push. But after she played Mohini in Tezaab (1988), and danced with skill, sensuality and grace to the Ek do teen number, she instantly catapulted to big-ticket fame.
During the 11-year phase when I was the Editor of Movie magazine (1988 to 1999), I did several cover story interviews with Sridevi but just one long tete a tete with Madhuri: I remember reaching late and when I explained that I had somehow managed to lock my car with the keys still inside, she fixated on the word ‘managed’ and kept unfurling that famous laugh. I featured Madhuri probably as many times on the magazine cover, but for interviews she and Juhi Chawla were both more comfortable with my deputy editor, Jitendra Kothari. However, Madhuri and I have had many casual chats because I spent more time in the studios than I did in the office and often flew to outdoor shootings of films where we ended up spending quality time with stars for two to three days.
Madhuri also gracefully attended the Movie Opinion Poll party I hosted at Piano Bar — she turned Cinderella on her head and arrived way past midnight. She left within 15 minutes but not before dazzling her contemporaries and crowds in a shimmering tight-fitting top.
I recall meeting her the first time on the sets of Subhash Ghai’s multi-starrer Ram Lakhan in Ooty. One lasting image is of the three beautiful women, Raakhee, Dimple and Madhuri, retiring to their seats after giving their shots. They barely said hellos and good byes and the only real exchanges they had was via the screen dialogues they exchanged. Madhuri would be chaperoned by her mother, Dimple’s sister Simple was her go-to person, while Raakhee would sit quietly with her make-up woman. I thought to myself how wonderful it would have been if they made small talk between the excruciatingly long breaks that are an inherent part of film shoots.
Since Madhuri and Sridevi were established rivals who were both vying for the number one spot, I had penned a comparison piece between the two. To paraphrase from the piece: Both started their Hindi film careers in long forgotten films, Sridevi with Solva Sawan, Madhuri with Abodh. Both turned up a couple of years later in sparkling new glam images in the commercial mainstream. Both were soft spoken, diplomatic and secretive by nature. Also disciplined, professional, cautious and ambitious. Both were indubitably indebted to choreographer Saroj Khan for their chartbusters. Both came from conservative families but were uninhibited in front of the camera. Both admired Hema Malini. Both ignored each other’s existence.
I attended Madhuri’s farewell bash, unhappy to see her quit films. After shattering the glass ceiling in the male dominated ’90s, when Madhuri decided to abbreviate her career post-marriage, she held a grand party at a suburban five-star hotel to which she invited the crème de la creme of the industry and selected magazine editors. She personally attended to each guest and made them feel welcome. Randhir Kapoor, while raising a toast, told me only half jokingly, “I can’t believe a heroine has thrown a party. It’s unheard of!”
Madhuri was absent for a decade from India after she shifted to Denver, America, post-marriage and lived a near-anonymous life. But before she turned into a soccer mom to her two sons, she was back. I met her again at the premiere of English Vinglish (2012), ironically a film marking the comeback of her biggest one-time rival, Sridevi. I was hesitant to approach her as distance breeds unfamiliarity but my journalist friend KS Sanjay egged me to go and say hello to her. She was seated in the centre seat of the last row with her husband Dr Nene, and I did something that is uncharacteristic of me. I tread over poor Pam and Yash Chopra’s toes to say “Hello” to her minutes before the film’s screening began. She was delighted and introduced me to her husband, Dr Nene. I told her to enjoy the film and to watch for the credits — my daughter, Nikita Raheja Mohanty was the secondary costume designer of the film. It was easy to pick up the threads from where we had left — she was typically affable without being effusive; I have never seen her fawning on anybody.
I haven’t met her for a while but a few weeks ago I saw Kalank and was glad to note that she could fit in with the current idiom. A very happy birthday to you, Madhuri and here’s hoping you shatter a few more glass ceilings.