It must have been early 1990s. Those were the days when Doordarshan was your only outlet for entertainment. Music TV channels hadn't taken over the collective consciousness and DD's Chitrahaar was still much sought after. And Chitrahaar was, pretty much, a family-viewing affair.
Imagine then the first time I got struck by a song from hit Hindi film Beta (Dhak Dhak Karne Laga) where an ardour-filled Madhuri Dixit is all over Anil Kapoor! Imagine the horror of watching a full-blown (well with clothes on, if that helps!) seduction act, where desire and lust is written all over the actors' face, with your parents sitting on either side of you. Not a happy feeling. Of course, such acts are, pretty much, the order of the day today.
The '90s was the era of Madhuri Dixit. She ruled the box office like nobody could dream of. I am told that Sridevi before her and Hema Malini too called the shots in their day. But I can't explain that as I was not witness to it. In the '90s, I was in my teens and witnessed first-hand the power of the 'Madhuri Dixit' brand.
Men lusting (ah, longing if you wish) for her was understandable. An entreprenuer relative was my first-hand exposure to the brand. I liked him as an individual. He was driven, ambitious, and was in the process of setting up an industrial plant in his hometown! In an industry-starved Odisha of the late 1980s, that sounded magical. And he was a Madhuri fan!
We would all together go and watch a Madhuri film in the theatre. Else, VCR was a good way to watch films in the comfort of your homes. And we would watch them together. I would observe how he would lap every single song. Yes, only songs, not so much the films.In song after song, I would notice how the choreographer-actor combine would come up with those chest-heaving moves! I mean, I can understand if some songs demanded that. Lust is a part of life and must be accepted as such. But it beat me how in song after song that particular movement of her body-part would become her calling card. How and when did love get substituted, exclusively, by sexual love? Of course, it would kick up a storm with women's rights hawks who would call them cheap and vulgar. I recall how full-page stories were written on another hit song of that era, Choli Ke Peeche, in the media.
The many moods of Madhuri in Choli Ke Peeche. Vulgar! That's a tricky word to use for the powerhouse combo called Madhuri Dixit and choreographer Saroj Khan. There can't be any doubt in anybody's mind that Madhuri is by far among the best dancers there ever existed in planet Bollywood (This was before Hrithik Roshan of course!). Her ability to pull off a move, any move, was just stupendous. In her day, only Govinda could come close. And mind you, this wasn't the gymnastics-inspired acrobatics that is, pretty much, dance today. The lady could have tremendous grace, if she chose to.
Madhuri Dixit in the Choli Ke Peeche song sequence: Fit for family viewing? (YouTube)
And boy, was she a comely maiden! If anyone came close to having a perfect Indian face after Hema Malini, it was her. Not only is she a classic Indian beauty, she is perhaps the most photogenic beauty that ever walked the face of this earth. Even when she made a face, it looked damn pretty! And of course, that stunning smile! And with such a bounty, she had charming ways.
Yet, this Chitpavan Marathi stunner languished in doldrums till Subhash Ghai saw the potential and recommended her to his colleagues, one of them being N Chandra. And then, Ek Doh Teen happened in 1988 and the rest, as they say, is history.
So what exactly was vulgar? The fact that she and her choreographer would make a business model of her physical assets. In film after film, did you not expect to see one song which had all the elements that would become her signature dance move, captured eagerly by the camera? And of course, the camera would lap up not just that but her bare waist and what have you.I have absolutely no problem with a woman craving sex. But I do have a problem if you pass off 'a certain kind of step' as an exercise of creativity and grace and one which is repeated with unfailing regularity! I do have a problem if, almost always, your 'creativity expression' is meant for the male gaze. I do have a problem if censor board passes such films without an A tag and it gets broadcast into homes where entire families sit and watch films.
Watch: Madhuri Dixit in Dhak Dhak song from Beta
It was a big deal watching Dhak Dhak Karne Laga with my parents. So uncomfortable was my father that he immediately picked up a newspaper and began reading to avoid watching 'soft porn' with his 'late-teens' daughter by the side.
And I haven't even begun talking of that other song: Choli Pe Peeche. Of course, it is a classic, but an adult one though - suggestive and cheeky. And where do you think I saw it first: on Chitrahaar of course!