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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A serious look at film actress Madhuri Dixit

By Harsh Thakor



Superstar Madhuri Dixit was an outstandingly beautiful actress and brilliant at her best but endorsed the voice of the reactionary forces and had scant respect for liberal or democratic values. –Harsh Thakor


No actress in recent times has caught the eye of  public imagination of the Bollywood screen or Indian masses as Madhuri Dixit. More than any actress she defined the coming of the post-liberalization era on the silver screen. In her peak Madhuri exuded beauty in sublime proportions and could sit besides the Greek goddesses. In full intensity her face bloomed like a lotus or star shimmering in the galaxy. Non one so much resembled Madhubala as Madhuri, who at times looked like an incarnate of her. Madhuri's expressions could attract one as if gazing at a sculpted monument, reaching poetic proportions. The beauty of Madhuri was not porcelain but as natural as the ripple of water or the reflection of moonlight in a stream. In my youth no Indian actress caught my eye in equal proportions.


Few actresses surpassed the sheer Joie de vive, bubliness, or energy of Madhuri. Her face could express the bitter cold of winter, the sweltering heat of summer, the subtlety of Autumn and the grace of springing very movie she could give a 360 degree change in expression. Her acting was as natural as the flow of spring water or as buoyant as a waterfall. In full throttle it was hard for an adjective to do complete justice to the magnitude of her intensity which could reach volumes of a coal fire.


Few actresses ever had such chemistry with so many male stars or even dominated a film even overshadowing the male lead as Madhuri. Although reactionary the roles Madhuri enacted reflected the social order of the times to a certain extent, particularly when she challenges or rebel against patriarchcal dictates, even in romantic films.


I feel notably she even improved her acting with time from the 1980's to the 90's ,being less stereotyped and adopted more innovative types of acting. With the advent of time she looked less the ordinary run of the mill, to a more complete actress and not just doing what she was meant to do. Few actresses more reflected the transition of the era of catharsis and violence of the 1980's to the romantic fervour of the 1990's


Madhuri enacted a wide range of roles in her career like  'Tezaab',’ ‘Parinda’, 'Dil'. 'Beta','Hum Apne Hai Kaun ' ,'Devadas', 'Khalnayak','  Dil to Pagal Hai' ,'Raja,' , 'Ram Lakkhan.' ,’Lajja’ and 'Mrityudand' She displayed innate mastery in adapting to the tasks  required in every different movie.




In my view Madhuri took acting nuances to their highest scale in film ‘Beta.(1992) I can't forget her candid expressions in 'Beta' when rescuing and defending husband Anil Kapoor and putting her  relatives Ramesh Chautala acted by Adi Irani and Mainavati. in place when they were bullying her. Conviction at a boiling point, taking rage to volumes of thunder and lightning and romance to touches of leaves blossoming in spring. Great justice is done to the character of the pain of a woman of an ordinary class, Displays marvellous flux or contrast of expressions. And her confrontation with her mothe in law Laxmi has classical proportions. Madhuri plays Saraswati, the good-natured wife of Raju (Anil Kapoor). He has blind devotion towards his stepmom, Laxmi (Aruna Irani) and can’t see through her ploys. Laxmi has deliberately brought him up as a simpleton as she wants to control him for his wealth. When Saraswati comes to know about it, there ensues a war of wits between her and her mother-in-law. It was a film about family dynamics and Madhuri excelled as an intelligent and loving wife who must make her husband realise the truth about his stepmother. Her confrontation scenes with Aruna Irani  gave the film the very juice.


In 'Tezaab' (1988) I can't forget scenes when she confronts her father enacted by Anupam Kher expressing intensity of sublime proportions. Anil Kapoor plays a young collegian who wants nothing else but to join the navy and serve his country but circumstances force him to take to a life of crime. The film highlighted the suppressed anger inherent in  society which is mostly curtailed but burns like cola fire when unraveled. It didn’t have a larger-than-life villain but a normal slumlord ruling over his denizens through use of fear. Munna (Anil Kapoor) locks horns with him in order to save his girlfriend (Mohini) and is forced to go all mano-a-mano with the goon in the climax in order to end his reign and also to finally give closure to his own pent up resentment and anger. I would hate to remember Mao only for her dance sequence and not for her role.


 In' Dil ' (1990) one gets the sensation of every season of the year, such is the change in the complexion of the expression. Madhuri as female lead does great justice to the plot expressing romantic and rebellious emotions . and establishes a brilliant chemistry with Amir Khan. Madhu (Madhuri Dixit) and Raja’s romance begins with them playing pranks on each other. She even goes to the extent of making false charges of rape on him and is smitten when he doesn’t retaliate. They genuinely come to like each other. Meanwhile, his father Hazariprasad (Anupam Kher) pretends to be a rich man so he can get his son married to Mr Mehra’s (Saeed Jaffrey) daughter, who happens to be Madhu. When Mehra learns of this duplicity, he humiliates Hazari Prasad. The two become sworn enemies. The two children secretly marry however and are disowned by their respective parents. When Raja gets injured, Hazari Prasad helps Madhu on the condition that she leaves his life forever. He lies to his son later that she left him. On knowing the truth, he rushes to the airport to stop her from flying away and their world is complete once more.


 In 'Hum Apne Hai kaun(1994) she projects innocence and humour with great flair and touch of grace to do justice to the plot. It is really telling the manner she synthesises the whole shape of the film and it’s characters which has no element of violence. Her role with Salman Khan as the co-star plays the central part in the integration of to families and give the film a great life in spite of the absence of melodrama or intense character rivalries so common in Hindi films. Great insight is given on workability of arranged marriage and traditional Indian ethos.


 In 'Raja' (1995) she virtually carries off the role of the male actor and many felt the film should have been title ‘Rani.’ Raja (Sanjay Kapoor) and Madhu (Madhuri Dixit) were promised to each other in marriage when children, thanks to the friendship between Rana Mahendra Pratap Garewal (Mukesh Khanna) and Vishwa (Dalip Tahil) -- Madhu’s brother with Brijnath (Paresh Rawal), Sanjay Dutt’s brother. Brijnath suffers a setback in business and becomes poor. Rana and Vishwa break the arrangement when they learn of this. Brijnath suffers mental shock because of that and Raja now supports him by whatever means he can. Raja and Madhu fall in love and get married despite opposition from her brothers. They pay someone to dress up like Brijnath and asks him to enter Madhu’s room when she’s alone. Madhu feels Brijnath has come to molest her in her husband’s absence and this leads to a huge misunderstanding between the two. In no uncertain terms I praise the resolute determination with which Madhuri as Madhu confronts  her brothers Vishwa  and Brijnath with here eyes and facial expressions conveying the intensity of an inferno.


In 'Dil to Pagal Hai’(1997) she demonstrates energy of whirlwind proportions as a dance and actress.With Shah Rukh Khan co-starring she gave her role  a deep touch of realism. Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) and Nisha (Karisma Kapoor) are the best of friends and perform dance-based plays along with their troupe. Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) is a classically trained dancer and is hopelessly romantic. Their paths cross when Nisha injures her leg during rehearsals and Rahul has to cast for someone new to play the lead in his new play Maya. Nisha, who is secretly in love with Rahul, is jealous of Pooja taking her place. The jealousy deepens when she becomes aware that Rahul is falling for Pooja. Ajay (Akshay Kumar), Pooja’s fiance, arrives at this stage. Rahul is devastated but the film gears towards a happy ending when Ajay sacrifices his love upon finding out Pooja’s and Rahul’s true feelings for each other.


In Khal Nayak' (1993)  it is not only her dance but her manner of expression that won the audience. Madhuri plays an undercover police officer who dresses up as a nautch girl in order to capture a criminal called Ballu (Sanjay Dutt). She’s doing it all to restore the reputation of her fiancee Ram (Jackie Shroff), who has been accused of aiding Ballu’s escape from jail. She comes to know of Ballu’s past and she helps him escape being shot by the police. Ballu, who likes and admires her, finally gets reformed through love when he hears that she will in all probability be handed out a rigorous punishment and surrenders himself in court before that happens.It wouldbe sad if this movie is only remembered for Madhuri’s dance sequence of ‘Choli ke Peeche Kya Hai  and not the strength of her role.


In Mrityudand (1997) her expression reached sublime proportion sin illustrating the grievances of oppressed women. I have no doubt that this was the best acting performance of her entire career where for once she championed a radical or revolutionary cause. Expressing subtle nuances she portrayed the oppressed women of Bihar and the social circumstances they faced. There was the intensity of thunder and grace of stream water flowing in her performance in Mrityud and, with no element of overacting. The fury written on her face at the end when shooting down the assassin of her husband tells it all.

It is based  in the village of Bilaspur, Bihar in 1996. The movie starts with the grisly portrayal of a mob killing of two defenceless women, manifested  by vested interests, and how village power players later evade administrative inquiries into this atrocity. This incident lights the spark for the theme of the movie.

The central characters are a young couple, Vinay (Ayub Khan) and Ketki (Madhuri Dixit). They are quickly dragged into the mist of the designs  several powerful and unscrupulous villagers. Foremost among them is contractor Tirpat Singh (Mohan Joshi), a powerful, corrupt and ruthless man who oppresses poor people and especially women with impunity. Vinay too becomes influenced by Tirpat, and under this influence spirals down a dark road of domestic abuse, alcoholism, and selfishness that alienates his loving wife and tears apart the whole family, despite her best efforts to fight this.

The rest of the movie deals with their efforts to challenge this embargo , both within their relationship as well as outside of it, and Vinay's and Ketki's protracted and death defying  struggle to confront and defeat the forces of oppression and male domination in the village.

In Devdas in my opinion she overshadows the acting performance or impact of Aishwarya Rao as Paro ,stealing the thunder of the beauty queen ,enacting role of courtesan Chandra Mukhi.


Shah Rukh Khan enacts Devdas , a wealthy law graduate who returns from London and finds himself in love with his next-door neighbour Paro (Aishwarya). However, because of the class difference between them, his family doesn’t consent to their marriage. Devdas becomes heartbroken and becomes an alcoholic because of the pain of separation from his childhood sweetheart. Paro’s mother marries her into a family which is richer than Devdas’ family. She marries a widower with children who has no interest in her. Devdas finds succour in the arms of a courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit). Madhuri ‘s sheer expressions gripped the heart of fan s with Chandramukhi’s character, giving it the vital element of buoyancy. it deserved.



In Lajja(2001) as ‘Janaki’ in tandem with other heroines she depicts the social oppression of women in society. Rarely has a female actress of the modern era done so much justice or expressed such intensity of expression defending dignity of women. Madhuri enacting ‘Janaki’ , with most subtle craft portrayed the grim reality of the life of woman. I can’t forget her confrontation and rebuking Purshottam enacted Tinu Anand with her eyes literally having the fury of a turbulent Ocean. To me this would be up there with her very best acting performances and amongst the best of the last twenty five years by any actress. Her acting gave the character or meaning of the film its very fuel. In spite of acting abreast many lead heroines Madhuri stood out like a star in  galaxy.



In 1989 she also as female lead Radha  and Anil Kapoor’s wife played an important role in making film ‘Ram Lakhan ‘ a success.Madhurui as Radh agave great support to Anil Khanna in projecting Lakhan.In the same year in film ‘Parinda’she enacts role of  ‘Paro’ with great fervour.Here role played an important part in giving an underworld saga life.Although not such a dominating her realism was greatly admired in this movie. Ironically here she enacted her first ever  death scene.


In the final countdown I would rank ‘Mrityudand’, ‘Lajja’, ‘Beta’, ‘Dil’  and ‘Dil To Pgal Hai’as her five bests films in that order.




What may be questioned was whether overall she was a consummate actress or just a great star with flashes of brilliance. It is also notable that Madhuri sung to the theme almost only of commercial films and very rarely projected a progressive figure. It could be said that in the end she was very much brand Madhuri.Instead of doing full justice to the character .she carried the mantle of her mannerisms or style.


It is difficult to make comparison s with actresses of other eras like Waheed Rehman, Nargis,Nutan, Meena Kumari etc but overall still I feel she did not carry grace at the same pedestal or immersed so intensively or classically in the character. I feel in pure acting skill stars like Kajol,Tabu or maybe even Rani Mukherjee or Urmila Matondkar at her best overshadowed her. It is also possible that inspite of being endowed with such talent,Madhuri wished to pull the crowds and not enact the roles of art films like Smita Patil or Shabana Azmi,or was not selective as Kajol.Still I have no doubt that Madhuri was a better actress than stars like Aishwarya Rai in her time who was relatively stereo typed, even if she was the most out sanding beauty of her time. Of yesteryear stars I rank Madhuri above icon slike Hema Malini and about on par with Sridevi. At her best in Mrityudand Madhuri could compare with the best acting performances of Waheeda  Rehman or Nargis.


No doubt Madhuri's roles represented the genre of her time, but unlike the best actresses of the past she over glorified the sex symbol image or cult of the heroine. In my view similar to superstar Rajesh Khanna Madhuri had flashes of overwhelming brilliance, but fell short of true greatness of a consummate actor in the manner of Waheeda Rehman or Nargis. or even Tabu or Kajol.


.It is very hard to evaluate how Madhuri would have performed had she been an actress in the era of the 1950's or 60's,with her striking resemblance to Madhubala. Vic -versa it is hard to conceive the grace of a Nargis or Nutan adapting to the modern era, with such degeneration of artistic standard and moral values.


Maybe we could be critical of Madhuri for going completely with the tide in acheiving stardom. Merely giving so many superhits  does not make an actress ‘great. ‘and has a lot to do with the ‘x’ factor and possessing mannerisms that pull crowds. When I watch her films I feel Madhuri has two aspects in her acting. One is the repeated mannerisms like keeping the kitchens burning or doing what the doctor ordered and the other expressions of sublime proportions and fluidity of unspelt boundaries.


Unlike Madhubala ,Nutan or Waheeda Rehman Madhuri did not start of as a sparkling beauty and acquired it over the years.


It also could be stated that Madhuri was in many ways a manifestation or mascot of the opressive phenomena of globalization and liberalization and till today she is investing every ounce of her energy to promote consumerism and endorse imperialist products. It may have been imperative for her to sell herself to reach the pedestal of Bollywood unlike greats of yesteryear or to an extent even Kajol or Sridevi in the modern era.It is hard o diagnose whether its the era which attributed a superstar to lack the grace of a Madhubala,Nargis ,Nutan or Waheeda Rehman..Nutan was without doubt more charitable ,while Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi were part of genuine social causes. Arguably a more principled Madhuri would have donned the colours of social roles and not sold herself so slavishly. I am also harshly critical of her stand towards her chauvinistic stand towards Nepal two decades ago .Today she does not open her voice against the unjust agricultural bills .It is sad that today culturally she symbolises oppression of the semi-fascist social order, endorsing all the reactionary actions of the Hindutva brigade promoting national chauvinism. In that light I feel Superstar Shahrukh Khan was more liberal in his views or even Naseerudin Shah.


Even if she donned the mantle of a sex symbol I would remember or glorify Madhuri Dixit for being 'Ketki' in Mrityudand',where we literally saw Madhuri in another form, as a crusader against injustice or in ‘Lajja.’It is a perfect illustration of the untapped potential of artists in enacting progressive or idealistic character roles. and a travesty of the crass materialism where artists have virtually to seek themselves like slaves in the film industry. It is absolutely ironical that both miss the cut in the selection of the top ten films of Madhuri Dixit by film fare.



Thanking  filmfare online  for the information on Madhuri Dixit’s films.

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