Say Lata Mangeshkar, and you think of melody, Say Madhuri Dixit, and you think of beauty. It’s hard to imagine Dixit as being 50. But then you see how beautifully she has aged, and how fabulously she has managed her life, and you know 50 is just a number that the ageless beauty has encountered in her beautiful journey of life.
Madhuri’s beginnings as an actress could never have indicated how far she would go. Her rise was not meteoric, but slow and steady. She started her career modestly in a Rajshri film Abodh in 1984 which was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Samapti. Aparna Sen and Jaya Bhaduri also did films based on the same story at the beginning of their careers.
Though the film flopped Madhuri made enough of an impact for ‘Showman’ Subhash Ghai to notice her. He offered Madhuri a dance number in his multi-starrer Karma. But when he saw her rushes Ghai decided Madhuri was more heroine material than an item girl. He decided to scrap the item song and cast her as a full-fledged heroine opposite Jackie Shroff in Uttar Dakshin.
Shockingly Subhash Ghai revealed to me that Madhuri COULDN’T DANCE!!!! Some years ago while we were discussing all his wonderful female discoveries Ghai said, “When I presented Madhuri in Uttar Dakshin she was so raw and inexperienced she didn’t know how to walk or dance on screen. I remember how appalled I was on the first day of shooting. I remember sitting her down and telling her how important the walk is. I had to create an entire persona called ‘Madhuri Dixit’ in Uttar Dakshin and Ram Lakhan. She had the biggest of co-stars in these films. She couldn’t appear inexperienced before them.”
Shockingly, Ghai says Madhuri couldn’t dance. “After I saw her in Abodh when I re-introduced her she had no idea of film dancing. I had to travel to Chennai with Saroj Khan and train and rehearse with Madhuri. Only after that did Madhuri manage ‘Laila Mar Gayee’ in Uttar Dakshin and ‘Ho Ramji Bada Dukh Dina’ in Ram Lakhan.”
Ghai and Ram Lakhan turned the tides of Madhuri’s career. The number ‘Ho Ramji Tere Lakhan Ne Bada Dukh Dee Na’ was the first time that Lata Mangeshkar sang for Madhuri.
“I felt I was finally a full-fledged heroine only after Latabai sang for me,” Madhuri had told me once. A little later Lataji sang 16 songs for Madhuri in her most iconic film Hum Aaapke Hain Koun.
But before ‘Ho Ramji’ there was Tezaab and ‘Ek Do Teen’. That one song turned Madhuri into a superstar. Director N Chandra recalled, “When we were shooting the song we knew something extraordinary was happening. Madhuri was electric on camera. Sarojji who is a hard taskmaster couldn’t stop praising her. We knew Madhuri was going to be a superstar beyond any.”
Her journey after Tezaab and Ram Lakhan was rapid, swift and sure-footed. People like Subhash Ghai (Ram Lakhan, Khalnaayak) Boney and Anil Kapoor (Pukar), Rahul Rawail (Anjaam, Jeevan Ek Sungharsh), Indra Kumar (Beta, Dil), Rakesh Roshan (Khel, Kishen Kanhaiya, Koyla) cast Madhuri in roles that gave her immense commercial clout and a reputation for delivering measured graceful deep performances.
Soooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain…Koun is to Madhuri’s career what Mother India was to Nargis or Mughal-e-Azam is to Madhubala. It iconized the dancer-actress beyond all definitions of celluloid fame. Among those who were lifelong fans of Madhuri and the historic film was artiste and painter M F Husain who saw the film 67 times and directed a whole film Gaja Gamini dedicated to her beauty.
Naseerudin Shah who was a part of the Gaja Gamini cast chuckled, “None of us knew what we were doing in the film. All we knew was that this was meant to be a love letter to Madhuri Dixit. I have to confess I am a Madhuri Dixit fan. I am not embarrassed to say this. I rate her on a par with Waheeda Rehman and Madhubala. We did Pankaj Parsher’s Raj Kumar and then we did M Hussain’s Gaja Gamini, the one that nobody understood. I was the only one who tried very hard to understand what was going in the film. I think Hussain Saab admired Madhuri. So he decided to make a movie around her. There was no story or anything. It was just a series of beautiful images, totally abstract and non-cinematic. I think he was trying to create a new language of cinema”. Sanjay Leela Bhansali confesses he’s an ardent Dixit fan. “Madhuriji is magic on screen. I couldn’t think of casting anyone else as Chandramukhi in my Devdas. She was my first and only choice. Devdas couldn’t have been made without her. I wanted her for my first film Khamoshi: The Musical. But things didn’t work out at that time. As a filmmaker it was very important for me to work with Madhuriji. She is a complete actress. A skilled dancer and superlative actress,” says Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
In 1999 Madhuri married the US based doctor Sriram Nene and migrated to Denver. Their marriage was a success because as once she jokingly told me, he had not seen any of her films and was not besotted by her. After two beautiful sons, Madhuri decided to return to India in 2011. Tragically Bollywood has not been able to find a place for Madhuri.
At 50 her beauty and grace aches for a Bridges Of Madison County. Instead she gets a Gulab Gang. Here’s hoping that some enterprising filmmaker would write a role that does justice to her timeless beauty.
And please, don’t insult Madhuri’s mythical persona by giving her an item song like ‘Ghagra’ (Yej Jawani Hai Deewani). Subhash Ghai realized long ago Madhuri was made for much greater glory than item songs.
Let’s give her a role as iconic as Hum Aapke Hain…Koun .We are counting the months weeks and days before that happens. Ek do teen…..