From the time Madhuri Dixit first appeared on the Indian silver screen somewhere in the mid-80s, most young women from the ages of 15 to 50 have tried to copy her dazzling and disarming smile; many among them even consulting an orthodontist to get the look. But it is only when you get to meet Madhuri in person do you realise that it is next to impossible to pull it off the way she does — Madhuri Dixit-Nene has quite literally patented it and honed it into an art form.

“It’s only love that makes you think of me this way,” says the graceful lady who has aged slightly but retains the same twinkling eyes and still flashes the bewitching 1,000-watt smile.

Popularly known as the Dhak Dhak girl of Bollywood (a phrase coined after she performed exceptionally in a song and dance number for the film Beta opposite superstar Anil Kapoor), as Madhuri sampled success during those early days in her film career and zoomed into prominence, many opined that she bore an uncanny resemblance to the evergreen beauty icon of Indian cinema, Madhubala.

But the newcomer was a step above the late beauty queen — she could dance and to prove it Madhuri grooved to countless songs, ultimately making them her own. To date, there is no one in the Indian film industry who could have danced to Aik Do Teen (Tezaab; 1988), Dhak Dhak Karane Laga (Beta; 1992), Choli Ke Peechay (Khalnayak; 1993), Didi Tera Devar Deewana (Hum Aapke Hain Kaun; 1994), Dil To Pagal Hai (Dil To Pagal Hai; 1997), Maar Dala and Dola Re Dola (Devdas; 2002), Aaja Nachle (Aaja Nachle; 2007) and scores of other songs the way she did.

“Dance has always been my passion and I love it,” says the enigmatic diva in conversation on the sets of her latest dance reality show, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, on Colors TV channel.

It was Madhuri’s mother, Snehlata, who made her daughter learn how to dance as she herself never could. Later, she mastered classical dance under the guidance of Pandit Birju Maharaj, a doyen of Kathak style and went on to win several best actor awards as well as the coveted National Civilian Award, the Padma Shri.

In a recent interview, Pandit Birju Maharaj said of her talent, “Madhuri is an excellent dancer. She is in the same league as actor Waheeda Rehman and dances with a lot of grace. She can also express her feeling very well through her eyes. I think she is the best dancer in Indian cinema after Waheedaji. She reminds me of her.”

In October 1999, Madhuri broke hearts when she took a sabbatical from films to get married to UCLA-trained cardiovascular surgeon Dr Shriram Madhav Nene and then became busy raising their two sons. Needless to say, when she returned and that too with the dance-based film Aaja Nachle, the joy on getting their Dhak Dhak girl back was written on her die-hard fans’ faces even though the film about a former dancer coming back to her roots and setting things right got a lukewarm response.

Today, Madhuri Dixit-Nene says that the Indian film industry has changed during her absence in the last decade. “For one, there were not so many film promotional tours in my day. You see, my mantra is simple: follow what the profession demands and if I am required to promote my shows and films, then I will.” In the same breath, she adds, “But when it comes to dance nothing has changed much. Maybe technical things have improved and the way the camera is handled has changed as it moves more restlessly now. But then songs are songs and I am still required to dance the same way I did then.”

Besides the dance reality show, Madhuri has two films that she is busy wrapping up: Dedh Ishqiya, a sequel to the earlier film, Ishqiya (2010) that had Vidya Balan in the lead. In fact, Balan credits this film as a milestone in her career. Balan was paired with Arshad Warsi whereas Madhuri is paired with Nasseerudin Shah in the sequel. The other film that she is working on is Gulabi Gang, a film based on the life of social activist Sampat Pal and her group Gulabi Gang that counters domestic abuse and violence against women.

I ask Madhuri what’s next and she responds, “Right now I am busy wrapping up work on these two films. I don’t have any plans to work on daily TV soaps. I’m happy doing the dance reality show right now, as it remains my first love. Let’s see what happens later…”

Recently, Madhuri, who performed with her guru, Birju Maharaj, on JDJ admits that judging can be tough. “Judging is not easy because you have to watch the performance and observe it. You are watching it for the first time and have to be really attentive. But it’s still a lot of fun.”

She admits that she gets along famously with her co-judges, director/producer Karan Johar and choreographer/director Remo D’Souza. In fact it was her friendship with Johar which made her do her first item dance, Ghagra via Agra, in the film, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.

The item song not only fulfilled Johar’s dream of casting Madhuri in his film but also fulfilled the wish of young heart-throb Ranbir Kapoor who got a chance to dance with the woman of his dreams. “It was a dream come true to perform with Madhuriji. Even my heart broke when she decided to get married and leave the industry,” Ranbir stated recently.

Besides dance and films, the Maharashtran beauty is also busy promoting her dance website these days. “I’m already working on my first venture; my dance website www.dancewithmadhuri.com went online on March 15. We have over 21,000 students enrolled so far. The positive thing about it is that you can learn dance anywhere in the world. You could be anywhere in the world and just log on to the website and learn. I am busy with that, and as of now I have no plans to direct or produce films.”

Her appeal spans across geographical boundaries and multiple generations in South Asia and in South Asian communities abroad. Immortalised in celluloid, Madhuri’s timeless beauty and charm will resonate with her fans as long as films continue to grab the public’s imagination.


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