HER SMILE is real. It’s the first thing that strikes you about Madhuri Dixit as you get behind the screen to see Bollywood’s most famous face, its failure rate notwithstanding. But for the rest, it is hard to tell where Madhuri ends and correctness begins.
Dressed in all -black — long skirt, sweater and jacket — Madhuri in Kathmandu is as different from her short-skirted, hip-jerking screen persona as chalk from cheese. The naughtiness is gone as she turns almost cross-eyed trying to focus on her next answer. Nothing spontaneous about it. She won’t criticise either commercial cinema, or art films she manages to remain loyal to both. “Art and commercial films are actually saying the same thing, only the language is different,” she rationalises.
That may not be entirely true, but it tells you that Madhuri badmouths no one. Ask her for a favourite director and she names almost everyone she has ever worked with. N. Chandra (Tezaab), Sooraj Barjatya (Hum Aapke Hain Koun), Subbash Ghai (Ram Lakhan), Yash Chopra (Dil To Pagal Hai), the list goes on. And her favourite heroines have now been dead for over ten years: Geeta Bali, Nargis, Nutan, Madhubala. Even from the mammoth record of her own performances, she won’t name a single hit film she thinks is her best. After much cajoling, she gives in, only to name a forgotten flop from the relics of cinema, Sangeet.
But if there’s one film that lights her up, it is M. F. Husain’s Gajagamini. “This one is ‘a really different film, it breaks the norms of cinema by merging the barriers of space and time,” Madhuri says without revealing any more about the venture that brings together the painter and his muse. “It combines myth and reality.” Husain himself, how- ever, is a different ballgame altogether. Madhuri talks with awe and respect about the octogenarian master and smiles shyly when she reveals that she too sketches in her spare hours. “But nothing I can show Husain saab,” she adds quickly, even though he insists that Madhuri let him take a look. They, says Madhuri, are just not good enough for the master.
But the mask is back as she talks about her forthcoming release Arzoo. “It’s a love triangle in which of the two boys, Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan, one gets the girl. After all, a boy cannot get a boy!” says Madhuri, making an attempt at humour.
In this age of Fire, a statement like that could be construed as being politically incorrect, but Madhuri manages to balance her views on the controversial film by staying on the fence. “Maybe Fire went too far, but then, the censors should set down the rules in iron so that filmmakers know what they can show and what they cannot,” she reasons.
‘Does that mean she believes the gender bias against the film is legit? “No,” she counters hurriedly. “I believe in women’s rights, that is why I did Mrityudand.” Prakash Jha’s critically acclaimed film, which also stars Shabana Azmi, is set in Bihar and focuses on the status of women in a family of landlords. “I believed in the character of Ketaki,” recalls Madhuri, adding that it was the only time she felt she had totally given up her own self to live a character’s life.
But that didn’t lure her away from Bollywood. And despite debacles, like Wajood recently, Madhuri has remained the cynosure of the box-office. The future, too, doesn’t daunt her — she remains confident of work- ing in Bollywood well into the forseeable future. “There’s room for everyone, despite the entry of some very talented newcomers,” she philosophises, even as she refuses to name any of these “talented newcomers”. As usual, she means everyone you can recall.
The question of marriage is taboo with Madhuri, so you talk dress designers instead. Looking slimmer than she has for some time now, Madhuri is keen to explain her mostly arbitrary sense of dress on screen. “I try to fit into the role and work with the dress designers for the right look,” she says, even as you wonder whether her idea of the right look is a silver short dress on an afternoon in the park with knee-high boots and a D&G bag. That’s what she’s wearing