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Memorable films

Madhuri Dixit

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Upperstall profile by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan

If any actress ruled the Hindi film industry in the 1990s, it was Madhuri Dixit. A perfect combination of drop-dead gorgeous looks with a dazzling smile, phenomenal acting ability and awesome dancing talent, Madhuri Dixit is the complete package. She has perhaps the most well-known and biggest hit dance numbers of Hindi cinema in the last two decades to her credit - Ek Do Teen (Tezaab (1988)), O Ramji (Ram Lakhan (1989)), Dhak Dhak Karne Laga (Beta (1992)), Choli ke Peeche Kya Hai (Khal Nayak (1993), Didi Tera Dewar Deewaana (Hum Aapke Hain Kaun...! (1994)), Chane ke Khet Mein (Anjaam (1994)), Nazrein Mili Dil Dharka (Raja (1995)) and Payal Meri (Rajkumar (1996)) among others.

Madhuri was born on May 15, 1967 in Mumbai in a Maharashtrian middle-class family. She trained in Kathak and was studying to be a micro-biologist when the Rajshri banner spotted her and introduced her as an actress with Abodh (1984). The film, however, was a dismal flop with Madhuri making no impact whatsoever either. She also did some modelling and was thought to be the next most exciting face on the Indian modelling scene but Madhuri's priority always was films. She went on to do supporting roles in films like Swati (1986) where Meenakshi Sheshadri played the lead and even a couple of episodes of a television serial, Bombay Meri Hai. She was then signed on by Subhash Ghai for a dance number in Karma (1986) that was omitted from the film but Ghai noticed the latent talent in Madhuri and orchestrated a massive re-launch for her. And then came N Chandra's Tezaab (1988)...The rest as they (always) say is history.

Tezaab made Madhuri a star. Despite Anil Kapoor having the author backed role, the biggest reason for Tezaab's success was probably Madhuri's sexy dance to the superhit Ek Do Teen number. This number led to several other sensual Madhuri dances, where she exuded far more sexuality than was the convention in Hindi cinema, thus guaranteeing their mass appeal. A Madhuri Dixit dance became something to look forward to. But to be fair to Madhuri, she was proving to be an extremely competent actress as well. She has her moments in Tezaab, especially, after Anil Kapoor re-enters her life.

The following year saw extremely strong Madhuri performances in Bapu's Prem Pratigya and Vidhu Vinod Chopra's gangster classic Parinda. But Madhuri's biggest success of the year was mentor Ghai's Ram Lakhan. While Ram Lakhan makes no great histrionic demands on Madhuri, being as it is the stories of two brothers, nevertheless Ghai gives Madhuri her moments under the sun like the O Ramji Bada Dukh Deena number.

Dil (1990), directed by Indra Kumar, won Madhuri her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Paired opposite Aamir Khan for the first time, Madhuri matches Aamir scene for scene and gives a fine, fiery performance but the accent was still very much on her sexy dances like the kohli number from Sailaab (1990). But by now, her dances aside, Madhuri had begun to easily rise above her script and make her mark as an actress playing strong if traditional women of the 1990s with a mind of their own. She scored strongly as the woman caught in the triangle between Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan in Saajan (1991), was effective in the two off-beat films Prahaar (1991) and Dharavi (1991), playing herself as Om Puri's fantasy heroine in the latter and all but made Beta (1992) her own film totally stealing a march over the film's hero, Anil Kapoor. While the highlight of the film was undoubtedly Dhak Dhak Karne Laga - probably the sexiest and most popular dance of Madhuri's career, her blazing performance - that of a woman married to an illiterate, well-meaning man and who exposes her scheming mother-in-law whom her husband dotes on - had film reviewers gushing with several people jokingly saying the film should have been called Beti instead! This, her second film with Indra Kumar, saw her win her second Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Beta also saw her take over from the reigning queen of Bollywood then, Sridevi.

Khalnayak (1993), with mentor Ghai unfortunately is remembered more the controversy generated for another of her most popular dances - Choli ke Peeche Kya Hai. The lyrics of the songs were deemed vulgar though Ghai argued that the song merely adapts a tradional Rajasthani folk lyric. In fact, a BBC report on the film said that the song "had all of India hot under the collar." The controversy helped, however, to make the film a hit.

Madhuri hit her peak with Hum Aapke Hain Kaun...! (1994), re-uniting her with the banner that launched her, Rajshri films and Raja (1995), her third outing with Indra Kumar. The former, a bigger, sugar-syrupy sweeter and more ostentatious re-make of the Rajshri's own Nadiya ke Paar (1992), is one of the most successful Indian films ever. HAHK, as it is known, looks at Prem (Salman Khan) and Nisha (Madhuri) whose elder siblings Rajesh (Monish Behl) and Pooja (Renuka), respectively get married. Over the course of the various wedding ceremonies and Pooja's 'godh bharai' (Indian equivalent of a baby shower), Prem and Nisha too come close to each other. Pooja dies in an accident leaving behind an infant son. As Rajesh finds it extremely difficult to bring up his son singlehandedly, the parents decide to get Nisha married to him. Prem and Nisha decide to sacrifice their love. Finally, thanks to Tuffy the dog, all's well that ends well. Though dismissed by many as a loooong marriage video, the film proved extremely influential as wedding songs and rituals became a neccesity in most Indian films thereafter. What's more its obvious affect on filmmakers like Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar cannot be denied. Coming to the performances in the film, Madhuri is undoubtedly the life of the film as Nisha. Be it the mischivious but strong independent girl who gives it to Prem as good as she gets or the woman willing to sacrifice her love believing she is doing the right thing, Madhuri is absolutely spot on creating one of the more memorable female characters of Hindi Cinema. The film deservedly won her another Filmfare Award for Best Actress and inspired a series of paintings of Madhuri by one of India's foremost artists, MF Hussain. Raja, otherwise a mundane film, sees Madhuri rise way, way above the script and is a hat-trick of hits she had with Indra Kumar following Dil and Beta.

Though Anjaam (1994) flopped, Madhuri as the revenge seeking Shivani still held her own and even did a song complete with lip sync and complex dance movements as she dances around a wheel chair bound Shah Rukh Khan in a single take!

Thereafter as Madhuri approached 30, a dreaded age for Bollywood actresses, her films like Rajkumar (1996) and Prem Granth (1996) in spite of strong performances by her, bombed at the box office leading her detractors to declare her finished. However, Madhuri was far from done. She bounced back with undoubtedly her career's best ever performance in Prakash Jha's Mrityudand (1997) and had one of her biggest commerical successes ever with Yash Chopra's Dil to Paagal Hai (1997).

Mrityudand is one film that shows what Madhuri is capable of, given the right role. The film is a strong commentary on social and gender inequalities plaguing Jha's homestate, Bihar. The films looks at the sufferings of 3 women - Shabana Azmi, Shilpa Shirodkar and Madhuri. Madhuri gives a wonderful insightful performance as the self-respecting educated woman married into a family of male chauvanistic upper class landlords and who is humiliated by her husband when she objects to his misdeeds, never hitting a false note. She more then matches up to seasoned artists like Shabana and Om Puri in their scenes together. In a word, she is mesmerizing. Though there were strong feelings that Madhuri was a shoo-in for the National Award for Mrityudand, unfortunately for her, she was pipped to the post by Rituparna Sengupta and Indrani Haldar, who won jointly for Dahan (1997).

Dil to Paagal Hai sees Madhuri cast as a Mills and Boons type heroine waiting for her prince charming convinced he's there for her. Sure enough he is and he's Shah Rukh Khan! However the film is longwinded and in spite of having its moments, is unsure if it wants to be an Aditya Chopra film or a Yash Chopra film and is an uneasy mix of the old and the new. While Madhuri is too old for the role, (she looks extrmely awkward in those purple leotards) and has the disadvantage of playing off against a young swelte Karisma Kapoor, she still more than compensates with her performance. See her in the climactic theatre scene and you know you are seeing an actress in total control of her craft. Madhuri would win her fouth Filmfare Award for Best Actress for the film but it seems the comments of her doubters had got to her as when she won, she dedicated the award to her detractors, a most un-Madhuri like gesture!

Thereafter, it was again downhill for Madhuri as none of her subsequent films made any major impact. She still scored in Pukar (2000), did MF Hussain's Gaja Gamini (2000) thus fulfilling her role as his 'muse' and is the one redeeming factor in Lajja (2001), otherwise an extremely disappointing film from Raj Kumar Santoshi. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's overblown Devdas (2002) saw Madhuri easily give the best performance in the film as Chandramukhi but beyond a point all the actors are defeated by the script and garish, loud treatment given to the film. Madhuri won her fifth Filmfare Award for the film, this time as Best Supporting Actress.

Madhuri had become such an icon that a film telling the story of a struggling actress wanting to make it big is titled after her - Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon! (2003).

Meanwhile, in 1999 Madhuri got married to UCLA-trained cardiovascular surgeon who practices in Denver, Colorado - Dr. Sriram Nene and settled there with him. The couple have two children Arin, born in 2003 and Ryan, born in 2005.

After a five year break, Madhuri returned to the silver screen with Aaja Nachle (2007) and though she showed that she was as good as ever, the film, sadly, was a major disappointment.





 

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