Happy birthday Madhuri Dixit: the Bollywood superstar who changed the rules of the game
When Anupam Kher revealed in 2015 that Madhuri Dixit received higher pay than Salman Khan in Hum Aapke Hain Koun, hardly anyone was surprised. By 1994 Madhuri was already a superstar, a self-taught icon who was arguably one of Bollywood’s greatest achievements. She was 27 and had previously delivered blockbusters like Tezaab, Ram Lakhan, Tridev, Parinda, Dil, Saajan, Beta and Khalnayak. Madhuri was the reigning box office queen and everything she touched turned to gold.
It was Rajshri Productions who introduced Madhuri to Bollywood with Abodh (1984) at the age of 17. Although the movie was shot, she got noticed. After a few forgettable movies, Tezaab has arrived. And there she was, like a flute player, leading a whole generation to the tunes of “Ek Do Teen”. She breathed life into Nisha, the heart and soul of HAHK too, as she did innocent Pooja in Saajan and fiery Suru / Saraswati in Beta.
In 2000, Madhuri won the title of Actress of the Millennium. The Millennium version of the Guinness Book of Records even named her the highest-paid Indian actress.
What made her the star of Numero Uno?
Madhuri came when another diva, Sridevi, ruled Bollywood in the 1980s. Even after four decades, fans are divided into Team Sridevi and Team Madhuri. The point is, she replaced Bollywood’s Chandni in the 1990s. Even the Khans, whose star was rising to prominence at the time, understood her power. Aamir and Madhuri were equal to Dil, not just on-screen, but off-screen as well. Shah Rukh Khan romanticized her with the same intensity as she reciprocated Dil Toh Pagal Hai. And HAHK was the latest movie Salman faced with an actress who suited her age!
Seen up close, this was a time when actresses were meant to grace the screen, shed tears, dance with the hero, and shout “bachaao” at the villain’s lair. Madhuri made his choices clear. Most of her films had her playing strong characters, who weren’t ready to budge. They were aggressive, tough, stubborn, daring and taking charge of their lives, women we hadn’t seen on our screens.
When she destroyed Revenge on Vijay (SRK) in Anjaam, it wasn’t a love affair. She became a warrior against her male dominated village and oppression in Mrityudand. She made unconventional decisions in Gulaab Gang and Aaja Nachle.
Many would say Madhuri Dixit just had the chance to be in the right place at the right time. I wouldn’t agree. She’s a full set of talent, screen presence, beaming smile, chemistry with her co-actors, and delivers near-perfect act in almost any genre. Many also point out that Madhuri could never match Sridevi’s comic book timing, but she made up for that with her dancing prowess, no actress has come close so far (not even Aishwarya Rai in “Dola Re” ).
And can’t we call his songs the backbone of his films? Much of Madhuri’s success can be attributed to her iconic acts and her mentor, the late choreographer Saroj Khan. When the latter disappeared last year, Madhuri said, “Saroj ji has been part of my journey from the start. She taught me a lot, not just about dancing, but so much more.
Saroj Khan Crochet steps designed especially for Madhuri. Every song they made together was a work of art. No one could present Madhuri better than his “master ji”, be it “Humko Aaj Kal Hai”, “Chane Ke Khet Mein” or “Mera Piya Ghar Aaya”.
Madhuri’s nimble feet have given us dozens of trails we grew up on. But we can’t just call his songs dance numbers. They moved the story forward. Sometimes they were pioneers. Khalnayak’s “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai” turned heads for its composition and daring lyrics. And she succeeded with the greatest grace. She even did it in Beta’s “Dhak Dhak Karne Laga”, one of the most sultry songs to date, which also made her “Dhak Dhak girl” for life.
During one of the episodes of the Indian version of So You Think You Can Dance in 2016, Madhuri spoke about his early days. She shared, “These were my first struggling days and I used to feel like I didn’t quite fit the ‘perfect’ height of heroines back in the Bollywood era. And I thought that way mainly because of the constant criticism I faced from strangers. But that didn’t deter my path to success and I worked hard and think I accomplished what I set out to do.
One can easily look at the bright side of his statement. While she didn’t fit into the heroines’ frame at the time, she created a new frame that others were forced to fit into. There has not yet been a replacement for Madhuri.
Madhuri Dixit is a recipient of Padma Shri. She has so far won six Filmfare Awards and has been on Forbes India’s Celebrity 100 list seven times.
Happy birthday, Madhuri Dixit!
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