Anupama Chopra: Madhuri, it’s so so lovely to have you back on the big screen again
Madhuri Dixit: Thank you!
You look, of course, gorgeous. Tell me, what exactly has happened? We didn’t see you for four years and now it’s of course Bucket List, it’s also Kalank, it’s also Total Dhamaal; what has happened?
You know, there are times when you just wanna pause; and you have kids, you have other responsibilities, you wanna make sure you’re there for them. It’s never that you’re just sitting and not doing anything. There are so many things other than acting and being in films. So… got a little occupied with that. When I thought it was the right time to do movies again, and experiment, that’s when I decided, ‘OK, let’s start working again.’
You know, when I saw you in all the TV shows — you are so fabulous, you’re such a fine dancer, you’re such a fine actor — I always wondered, I was always like, ‘Maybe Bollywood just doesn’t know what to do with her.’ Is that true?
I know you said that to me the last time we met. I don’t think it’s as much that, but I don’t know what it is. I think the decision to take a pause when completely mine. There were many scripts I read, there were many things I was doing during that time; I even did my album, which will release somewhere in this year. I was busy in a different way, during these four years. But this script came to me, Bucket List, and it just inspired me; I thought this is a film I should do now.
I feel very comfortable in front of the camera. My only challenge is ‘Am I doing it differently?
Just grabbed you?
Just grabbed me. Because it’s a very, very relatable story about a housewife who’s so involved with what’s happening, with her kids, her husband, her in-laws. She’s looking after everyone. She’s so lost in looking after her family that she loses herself, her own identity, in the whole process. Things happen in her life, and she finds this bucket list. She feels it’s her responsibility to complete it now. And in that journey, she finds herself again. And somewhere, I think, every housewife goes through that. So I thought it’s a very relatable script and I loved her journey and I loved the humour in the film. Just a very joyous film, you know? So I thought I should do this.
And then once you signed that, did you sort of feel excited about movies and then sign the others as well?
Well, it so happened that during that time, when I was doing Bucket List, Indujee approached me for Total Dhamaal. And I heard the script, and it’s a mad caper! And I haven’t done a comedy in a long time. And so I thought this would be a great film to do as well. Because, of course, there’s Anil in the movie and there’s a whole star-cast. And it is a total dhamaal film. And I thought, ‘Oh, I would love to dig my teeth into this one.’ So then I decided to do that. And then Kalank happened. It just kind of grew after that.
And now the pause is done? Now you’re fully into doing movies?
You’ve never felt comfortable. Are you still scared before going in and giving a shot?
No, I feel very comfortable in front of the camera. My only challenge is ‘Am I doing it differently? Am I doing it how the director has envisioned this role to be?’ So we discuss a lot. And when I’m in front of the camera, I’m trying to think of all the things that we have discussed, and how this character should behave in that particular scene. And so those are the challenges.
This is a love affair that’s been going on, with the camera and us, for a very long time
And it’s still exciting? Are you still completely in love with it?
Yes, yes! Absolutely!
You know, Alia (Bhatt) had told me that it’s like a marriage: some days are good and some days are bad, but you never fall out of love, in that sense. Is that what it’s like?
Absolutely. I mean, she’s bang-on. If you think about it. Because this is a love affair that’s been going on, with the camera and us, for a very long time. It’s like you’re trying different ways to capture the camera, you know, capture its attention. And trying different things, trying out roles because you also have to feel challenged, you have to do something. If you’re doing the same kind of thing again and again, I think it gets boring for us also, and for people to watch.
But Madhuri, the demands of stardom today are very different from what they were when you first began. Do you find it easy to adjust, has it become a bit difficult?
It’s not been difficult. I think it’s easier now than it was.
Really? In what way?
In the way of personal comforts. In the sense, when we used to do outdoors, we never had vans and we never had these. We just had to go with whatever weather. We were just sitting in the sun. There were a lot of hardships in that sense.
Physical hardships. And today, it’s much easier. Your scripts are ready – you know every dialogue you’re going to say in the film. Everything is worked out, from your look to what your makeup is going to be in a particular scene scene. So in that sense, everything is very organised. It’s not as disorganized as it used to be. But, of course, we still made good films spontaneously then. Today it’s all planned and hopefully, we are still making good films.
There are some days when you can’t tweet and that’s fine. I mean, you don’t have to get bothered with that
But do the other demands – actors now talk about themselves as brands. And stardom is bigger than just what you do on screen. There’s also the social media aspect, which is massive. There’s also appearances and events. Does all of that ever get to you or do you enjoy it?
To a certain extent, I do enjoy it. I enjoy social media a little bit because you kind of hear what people are thinking, you hear it. It’s a gateway to address your fans directly – not some magazine who is going to write something, you know? It’s not a roundabout way. If there’s something you want to clear, you just put it out there and it’s there in the universe. The only difficult thing is when you’re promoting your movies, I think that’s the only new avenue.
It’s very intense.
It’s very intense, but I’m not someone who stays back from intensity or whatever. Whatever needs to be done, I’ll do it.
Do you ever struggle to balance the artist in you with these demands? With ‘ek boomerang bhi karna hai’, ek look bhi you have to pose for, the fashion ‘yay or nay’ picture. Does it ever take away from the artist?
No, I don’t think so.
You can keep the sanctity of it?
It’s up to you how much you want to do, you know. It’s not that you have to do it and you have to do this and you have to do that. There are no rules, right? So you do it when you feel like doing it. If you don’t feel like doing it, don’t do it.
But you don’t feel the pressure? Because there’s so much social media and everybody’s on it all the time.
No, I personally have not felt the pressure. People around me feel it – “Ma’am you haven’t tweeted in a long time, you should tweet something.” And I understand that. There are some days when you can’t tweet and that’s fine. I mean, you don’t have to get bothered with that. I don’t get bothered with that.
Tell me, all the male contemporaries who you started out with or worked with much earlier are all having these blazing careers – all the Khans, Anil (Kapoor). The truth is, there are just not that many great roles for women of any age, right? So what do you think might be a solution – should actresses look more actively at producing themselves, taking charge of their own narrative? Is that an option?
I think today roles are being written for women. You see Tumhari Sulu, you see Raazi now, which has just released. There are so many films which are very woman-centric, without being stereotyped. No stereotypes today. Women are women. And they’re treated as such in the movies. Their characters are written as such. When you see Tumhari Sulu, she’s playing an RJ and you see what she has to go through and her own process. Initially, when you talked about a women-oriented film, it used to be (about) an avenger or someone who’s a victim and then takes a stand. It’s not like that. There are ordinary women, everyday-life women, which are being portrayed on screen. So I think this is a great time for women in cinema. Yes, even Hollywood has its own issues with women-oriented scripts, hut have you seen Oceans 8, which is going to come now?
It looks crackling.
It is crackling. Movies are being made where women are the centre and yet, they are just women. They are not being pushed into a slot.
So you don’t ever feel frustrated as an actor about the quality of scripts that you’re being offered?
I have been offered quite varied scripts and I have not been disappointed.
You know, I was talking to Rani (Mukerji) about Hichki…
That’s another film!
That’s another film. So she said that it’s important to her how it does. Because it’s important to know whether the audience still want to see you on screen or not. And my counter was – but you’re now beyond box office, you’re beyond the rat race, why should it matter? Should you not just do any roles that excite you? How do you feel?
I feel you should do any roles that excite you. Because there’s nothing left to prove, right? There’s nothing left to prove. What’s left to be proven is whether you can handle different kinds of roles. And, you know, that’s what I’m trying to do now.
Everybody just follows a trend and when something does well, it gives other people more confidence to make their product
So you’re completely zen-like about the box office? You don’t really worry?
Well, it’s wonderful when women-centric movies do well because then more get made. Everybody just follows a trend and when something like that does well, it gives other people more confidence to make their product. Not like, ‘Oh god, this didn’t do well so maybe we should keep this script back and make something else.’ So it gives them that encouragement. It makes them very secure in the knowledge that if we make this film, make it right, it can still run and people will come and watch it.
So you’re coming at it from that point of view? Do you care, Madhuri, about your image, about whether you can play a certain type of character? Do you worry about those types of things anymore?
No I’ve never worried about that.
Not even earlier?
Never, because I did so many roles. I did a Beta, I did a Dil and then I did a Mrityu Dand after having so many commercial successes, which was like ‘Oh you’re a commercial actress, you should not be in this, it’s an art film.’ That’s what everybody told me. And I said, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s a role and I want to play that role. It’s such a good film and the maker is so good, the director is so good and I would like to do it.’ Maine zidd se ki woh. I did it and I don’t regret it because it was a beautiful role that I got to portray as Ketaki.
So you’ve always taken those risks and you’re open to doing pretty much anything now?
Yeah, I mean I did Gulaab Gang, in which I was on a harness and I was fighting. And then there was Dedh Ishqiya, which had its little intonations and little con going on up there and I thought it was very cleverly written.
It was. And very edgy, in what it suggested.
Very edgy. So I want to try, I want to do every kind of role that is out there.
Women are women. They’re always strong, they’re always stoic
Would you be open to playing something really negative and dark?
Yeah, why not? If it’s very challenging, I’ll do it.
I came across this interview that Shahrukh Khan gave in 2006 to Filmfare, where he called you ‘the most solid man in the industry’. He said, “She has solid believability, she’s solid emotionally, she’s the only person I feel I’m not as good as.’
I think he’s being very modest when he says that. He’s being very generous and I don’t know why a woman should be called a man.
As a compliment. But I think he meant well.
Yeah, I love Shahrukh Khan, don’t get me wrong. We are on very, very good terms and we have this mutual admiration society going on. But what I’m trying to say is that women are women. They’re always strong, they’re always stoic. And even where family is concerned, or the kids are concerned, it’s always the woman who keeps the whole thread, who keeps the whole necklace going. She’s the thread that binds everyone together. And that’s her role, so she has to be strong, she has to be stoic, she has to be very clear in her mind. And that’s nothing surprising.
But what was it like then to read these things about yourself?
It was very nice, it was very sweet of him to say that because what he was trying to say is that, maybe he was just trying to say, ‘She is very solid. If she believes in something, she’s going to do it.’ I don’t look back, I don’t regret, I don’t second-guess myself. Once I have decided to do something, I just go ahead and do it to the best of my ability, you know? Whether it’s being just at home with my kids or husband. If I say, ‘Okay, I want to take a break’, I’ll just take a break. If I want to come back, I’ll come back with that much fervour and confidence and everything. So maybe that’s what he meant.
So despite the fame and glory that you’ve enjoyed for so many decades, you’re fairly detached. You can sort of say, ‘No this is not what I want right now.’ and go to something else.
Because I’m attached to something else at that point. I’m thinking of something else at that point.
I feel life is much larger than just being insecure about things and being in the movies
No, but it’s not easy to do, Madhuri. And you’ve done it. You walked away, you went to Denver. It’s not easy to walk away from, it’s so seductive.
Yeah because it’s not the end-all for me. It’s never been. I feel life is much larger than just being insecure about things and being in the movies and there’s so much more to life. And all these experiences teach you to be a better actress, you know? When you’re doing other things and you’re exploring other things and you’re experiencing so many different emotions in your own life. All those kind of things contribute to you as an actor in front of the camera.
So when you look back on all the films that you’ve done and all those award-winning performances, which are the ones where you look at yourself and you can say to yourself, ‘I really got that right.’ Are there any?
Yeah there are a lot of movies like that.
Which are the ones where you have impressed yourself?
I don’t know, it’s never like, ‘Oh I’m so impressed with myself.’ I’ve never looked at a movie like that. I just felt, ‘Oh I got that character right.’ or ‘Oh I got that scene right.’ And in that sense I think because I did Mrityu Dand at a point where everybody was like, ‘You’re a commercial actress’ and you know, all that, and then I did Ketaki, it was just freeing me. I don’t know what word to use there, but I felt like I could just play a character without having any rigid kind of rules like ‘No, you’re a heroine so you have to do it in this particular way.’ So I really enjoyed doing that.
That was the one that still stands the test of time for you?
Yeah, where performance is concerned, absolutely.
After I got married is when I actually experienced life and I went out there and I did some things that I had never done before
And do you miss all that dancing? Because now everyone is like, ‘Nahi, lip-sync gaane nahi hone chahiye.’ Everybody is into reality and I was like, ‘You know yaar, those were lovely.’
Well, there will be movies which will be made that way. Bollywood is about song and dance. And we are making movies which are otherwise too. Marathi movies are so content-driven and so beautiful. They’re taking different kinds of subjects and making them with so much conviction. And even the audience is ready to accept that. I think song and dance movies will always be made. That’s Bollywood.
That’s how I see it. I miss it if it’s not there.
See even when a musical is made in Hollywood, look at the kind of response it gets. Like La La Land and Chicago. There are few made there, but when they are, they just engulf everyone.
Are you a very different person from the person who first started here?
I think I’m different in only one way, that when I started I was very young and I had not seen, I had not experienced life. It was like I was just going from one studio to another.
I remember you and me, we used to discuss pimple remedies. Do you remember that? We would say, ‘What are you using?’
‘Aisa nahi ho sakta ki kuch aisa aa jaye ki kuch aisa ho jaye.’ Those worries were very different. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that after I got married is when I actually experienced life and I went out there and I did some things that I had never done before, experienced the outdoorsy kind of life which my husband is very fond of and met people in a very different circumstance and not because you’re a star and you’re there and you’re meeting people where they have seen you onscreen a lot and you always feel, ‘How do they think of me?’
They see me on screen, what’s real? So I got to do all that and it just expands you as an actor or your experiences. It just makes you. And I think that in that sense, I have changed a lot.
I remember you telling me you normally would not dress up to go out in Denver and when you’re going grocery shopping and you haven’t done your hair and all, inevitably…
Inevitably, you’re going to run into fans.
Yeah, some Indians would come and say, ‘Madhuri Dixit!’
And I would just be like oiled hair and in my tracks and just trying to be very, very normal and that’s the day you meet people. But that’s fine, you know. Because you’re human after all.
Women should have some time for themselves, some individuality, something that they can fall back on
But it’s such an amazing story and I’m so excited that we might get to see it on television. Is that happening, with Priyanka?
Well, you know, TV is a different medium. It’s not like films, where once it’s scripted and everything is done, let’s go! So there are a lot of loops you have to jump through. So it’s churning, I would say, right now.
Well it’s very exciting and tell me, what do you want people to take away from Bucket List?
Well, it’s the journey of this woman who has completely lost herself, immersed herself in her family. And what happens is that people around you also start taking you for granted. But she doesn’t want anything, she doesn’t need anything. But you are an individual, you know? You have to have something that is you and that’s what happens to this woman. She finds herself, she discovers her voice. It’s not that she’s unhappy in her life, it’s just that extra something that you need in your life to make it sparkle again and you know, people around you, even in the movie, people around her change their perspective – the way they look at her becomes very different because she is different now. So that I thought was a wonderful thing about Bucket List and I would want every woman to feel that way. They should have some time for themselves, some individuality, something that they can fall back on. Because what happens in that kids grow up, go to school, they go to colleges and you know, whatever. The husband is busy with his work, the in-laws are busy with their own circle and suddenly the woman feels like, ‘Oh my god, it’s empty!’ That emptiness should not come because you should have something, some sparkle for yourself.
Sounds lovely, Madhuri. Can’t wait to see it. Thank you so much.
Thank you, thank you.