Happy Birthday Madhuri Dixit: The unrelenting charm of the dhak dhak girl
The 1980s is generally considered the darkest phase of Hindi cinema when content suffered immeasurably. The quality of films made -- say from the mid 80s to the end of the decade -- were usually poor in stories, songs, depiction of women, etc. This was also the era when the footfall of the female and family audiences to cinema halls across the country for Hindi cinema declined to a large extent.
Then, with the coming of the 1990s, winds of change began to blow again. Content showed signs of revival. The era saw the emergence of a new set of stars - primarily the three Khans. However, it was the era of another bright star in the Hindi film firmament - Madhuri Dixit.
Though Madhuri made her debut in 1984 with a Rajshri Productions film called Abodh, she had to wait for another four years before success came knocking at her doorstep. With Tezaab (1988), she had arrived. Her dazzling smile, classic Indian good looks, spectacular dancing skills and effortless acting made her a stand-out performer.
In an era when Sridevi was the dominant star but whose fortunes weren’t as bright -- it meant that while she could still command respect from her peers in the industry, her films were not as bankable as in the past. Meenakshi Seshadri was considered to be Sridevi’s successor but she lacked the X factor.
It was Madhuri really who filled the gap in real terms. She had a certain screen presence - people wanted to see her beauty, her energy, her smile, her adaa (hard to put an English word to it), her dances... It wasn’t as if there hadn’t been more beautiful faces on the silver screen. It wasn’t as if films hadn’t seen good dancers. But Madhuri’s endless charm also came from the womanhood she projected.
In much of the films she did in the 1989-1990 phase, her choices didn’t give her any remarkable leeway - in films like Mujrim, Ilaaka and Kanoon Apna Apna, Madhuri had little to do really other than being the ‘love interest’ of her leading men, Mithun Chakraborty and Sanjay Dutt.
However, so addictive was her presence on screen that every filmmaker worth his salt wanted to have her onscreen, even if it was for a short period. This was the phase when the Madhuri Dixit charm was beginning to spread its magic - audiences were willing to pay to watch this new girl ‘smile and dance’ into their hearts.
Despite having insignificant roles in films like the above, her visibility improved.
Meanwhile, she was also picking stories which allowed her to display her acting skills far better like Dil with Aamir Khan.
Her big hits during this phase - Thanedaar and Ram Lakhan - had meatier roles for the men in the film - Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff - but there was no mistaking Madhuri’s presence in the songs from the film.
With films like Sailaab, Kishen Kanhaiya, Jamai Raja and Saajan, she would soon eclipse the hero of the film. In fact, by the time Beta released, many in the audience thought the film ought to have been named Beti, so compelling was Madhuri as a wife of a man, totally devoted to his step mother, who is actually a shrew.
The thing with Madhuri was that she never compromised with her core values -- of being a strong woman. She never really played a ‘bechari’ in her films. She used her oomph and her sexuality to the hilt to mark her presence with her viewers. It was a power equation with her winning hands down.
With Hum Aapke Hain Koun! her star power was complete. The Sooraj Barjatya film completely hinged on her combined assault of beauty, talent and oomph.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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