Madhuri Dixit (she wasn’t Nene yet) and I bonded over pimple remedies. In the early 1990s, I was a rookie film reporter. She was a star on the rise. We both had acne. I remember discussing one particularly weird recipe that involved putting rice water on our faces or perhaps it was rice atta with haldi – suggested, if I’m not wrong, by Mithun Chakraborty. That was Bollywood then. There were so few of us covering the film industry. Cell phones and entourages hadn’t been invented yet. So the long waiting-time between shots could be filled with discussions on zits!
Madhuri shot to stardom quickly. In September 1993, I did my first cover story for India Today magazine on her – it was headlined The Madhuri Magic. The image on the cover was her in that iconic purple sari from Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! The film hadn’t released yet but she was already a sensation post ‘Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai’ from Khalnayak. The article noted that Sridevi was still higher paid (she was getting Rs 40 lakh per film while Madhuri was getting between Rs 30 and 35 lakh) but Madhuri was clearly the usurper to the throne.
The interviews continued over the years. In March 1998, we met on the terrace of the Royal Opera House theatre where she was shooting for N. Chandra’s Wajood. Through 1996 and 97, she had already seen a dip in her career and this article celebrated her return to form with Mrityudand and the blockbuster Dil To Pagal Hai. She said to me: I want to be remembered as a lady who walked tall.
One year later, at the peak of her career, Madhuri got married to a cardiovascular surgeon and moved to America. One of India’s biggest actresses became a suburban housewife. After she and the family returned to Mumbai and showbiz, I asked her about walking away from the seductions of stardom. She laughed and said that acting and cinema was never her whole life. It was simply one part of it. So it wasn’t difficult to take a break.
She maintains that same Zen-like attitude even today. She’s on television, in films and commercials, and of course on social media. But she says she feels no compulsion to post regularly on Twitter and Instagram. She says something when she feels like saying it. Which makes her minders a little nervous.
Equanimity is a trait seldom found in the entertainment business. Creative people are by design and DNA, mercurial. But Madhuri is the exception to that rule. I can’t claim to know her well, but in all the years that I have interviewed Madhuri, she has maintained a level-headedness and poise. In a 2006 Filmfare interview, Shah Rukh Khan described her like this: She’s the most solid thinker, the most solid emotionally, a solid believer.
I suspect that this solidity has been in place since her first film – Abodh in 1984. When I interviewed her recently for her latest release, Bucket List, I asked if she was a very different person today. She said: I think I’m different in only one way, that when I started I was very young and I had not experienced life. I was just going from one studio to another. 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. So I got to do all that and it just expands you as an actor. It just makes you. I think that in that sense, I have changed a lot.
After the interview, we complimented each other’s clear skin and chatted about our children. And I understood that this streak of normalcy is what makes Madhuri’s appeal so enduring. She remains constant – both in her blazing talent and in her sorted attitude to life and stardom.
It’s a rare combination.