Madhuri Mania

Childhood: Middle-class values & the Marathi mulgi

Madhuri with her husband, Dr Nene
I grew up in a middle-class family and just the other day I was telling my son how we had just a few toys when we were growing up, as we could not afford too many toys. But we still had a good life because we had so many kids to play with. The apartment complex that I lived in had 22 kids in my age group and everyday we used to come back from school, do our homework and just run down to play. That is all we knew and that’s what kids here miss. They miss the company of other kids as everybody is working and by the time the parents pick up their kids from the daycare, the day is over. So even though we had a middle-class upbringing and didn’t have much, we still had a lot of fun. We enjoyed every moment of our lives and there was so much silliness and running around that we did.

I am the youngest in the family and have three older siblings, and the age difference between me and my oldest sibling is 10 years. So I was literally the baby of the family. My sisters and I started learning kathak from a very young age. My mom’s artistic interests were passed down to us. She was interested in art, used to learn singing and wanted to learn dancing when she was growing up, but her times were very different. It was not considered good to learn dance, especially for a girl from a Maharashtrian family. In fact, it was a complete no-no; one was allowed to learn singing but not dancing. It was like you can become a Lata Mangeshkar, but you cannot dance.

We used to live in Andheri in Mumbai and I did my schooling at the Divine Child High School. Later, I joined Parle College. Being the baby of the family, I was always over protected. When I joined college, I did not even know how to travel by public transport as I had always travelled with my elder sister. Once, I travelled alone in a crowded bus and the conductor was right in the front of the bus. So when my bus stop came, I got off without buying my ticket. To my luck, there was a TC standing right in front of me when I got off. I started crying and told him I could not get my ticket as the bus was crowded. He was understanding and let me go.

Movies after the 12th standard

Well, it all happened by accident… As a child, I loved watching movies and used to sit watching ‘Chaayageet’ all the time, but of course, never visualized myself on the screen. I used to love dancing, taking part in cultural activities in school, directing plays etc… In the 10th standard, I was voted the best student of the year as I was all over on the cultural scene that year. It was during that time that someone we knew who was working in Rajshri Productions, told us that they were looking for a new girl for their movie ‘Abodh’. It was something like ‘Balika Vadhu’ and they wanted a fresh and innocent looking young girl. So he came and asked my family if I’d be interested in doing the movie to which my parents straightaway said, ‘No, we like her dancing, but that is about it. Besides, we want her to complete her education’. But he insisted that we meet the Rajshri Productions people just once. They are very nice people, just like us, he told my family. My family then had discussions and ultimately decided to at least meet them.

We went to the Rajshri office and met Tarachand Barjatyaji and Raj Babu and their family and we felt quite comfortable with them. My mom and dad were kind of appeased, and also it was a simple and sweet role, nothing controversial. Then, mom spoke to her family as she comes from a very orthodox family. We were surprised when they said, ‘The girl has talent and we feel she will make it’. My panji (great grandmother) was very forward thinking for her age and when she gave her consent, we said, ‘Let’s take a chance’.

Taking baby steps in the film world

So I went for the audition and 2-3 months passed by. I had grown my hair for that role as they wanted the character to wear plaits and look very simple. They did not want someone with short hair. One day, I asked my mom, ‘Since they have not called us, can I go and cut my hair?’ My mom told me to be patient. But I kept pestering her and finally she got fed up and called the person (whom they knew at the Rajshri office) and asked him about the role. He told her that they were thinking of getting a more established name, and mom finally allowed me to cut my hair. And sure enough, like Murphy’s Law, the week after I cut my hair, we got a call from Rajshri saying they wanted to meet us.

When Raj Babu saw me, he was horrified to see my short hair. He told us it was a big problem as the director Mr Hiren Nag from Kolkata had come down and we had to meet him. ‘Now that you have cut your hair so short (just like a boy), we will have to make a wig for you’, he said. I did a few scenes from the movie for the audition with the wig on, wearing a puff sleeve blouse and orange sari. The director liked what he saw and wanted to start shooting right away. My exams got over in March and by mid-April we started shooting for the movie. So this is how it all started...

I never made a serious effort to get into films but after I did ‘Abodh’, I got really interested in movies. I realized that this is my calling and this is what I wanted to do. I was a first year microbiology student and I thought along with studies, I will do small roles which will need 10 to 12 days of work. So I did two movies - ‘Swati’ and ‘Awara Baap’. Everybody in college knew that I had worked in movies, so all the boys used to stand in the corridor and tease me while I went to class. I hated going to college after a point.

Slowly, things changed on the professional front. I met Subhash Ghai when I was doing ‘Awara Baap’ and my director praised me sky high to him. Subhashji then told me that he wanted to re-launch me in a leading role. We told him, ‘We are innocent people, we don’t know anything about the industry and we just did whatever we thought was right at that point’. His ‘Karma’ was just getting over and he wanted me for ‘Ram Lakhan’, and advised me against doing small roles.

We agreed and that’s when the actual struggle began for me because till then I was doing movies just for a lark and now all of a sudden, it was going to be my profession!

Then N Chandraji saw me in a clipping from a movie I was doing and approached me for ‘Tezaab’. I was shooting for ‘Ram Lakhan’ and ‘Tezaab’ simultaneously but due to some reasons, ‘Ram Lakhan’ got delayed and ‘Tezaab’ released first and, of course, everything changed after that…

Life after Tezaab - A star was born!

Oh my God, I could not believe it! I was not in India when ‘Tezaab’ released as my sister was getting married in the US. My secretary Rikku called me and said ‘Madhuriji hit ho gaya, hit ho gaya, super hit ho gaya (Madhuriji, it’s a hit, a super hit!)’. I didn’t know what super hit meant or how it felt to have a super hit movie. When I returned to India, soon as I came out of the airport, I realized that people were looking at me weirdly and whispering. Then I saw these street boys who clean cars and one of them looked at me and said, ‘Hey look, ‘Ek Do Teen’ girl’. I looked at him and he came running to me with a piece of paper and pen, and that was my first autograph. That was the first time I was recognized in public.

‘Ram Lakhan’ released shortly, and did well too. Then came ‘Parinda’ where my role was completely different. I was lucky to get good roles thereafter in films like ‘Beta’, ‘Dil’, ‘Raja’ etc. I worked with so many talented directors and learnt so much from them.

The matkas, the jhatkas, the hits, the flops

The other interesting film I did was ‘Mrityudand’ which was very offbeat during that time because mainstream cinema was considered to be the forte of commercial stars. And commercial stars didn’t really do arty movies. Now all those lines are becoming grey, but during my time, they were very black and white. Prakash Jha is a very good director and managed to get a different performance from me.

All my acting skills I learnt from my directors. Subhashji has a very keen eye and from him, I learnt how to enter a frame, how to exit, how to face the camera, which angle to look at, how to look, the works…

From Bapugaru, who directed me in ‘Prem Pratigya’, I learnt the art of close-ups because he was a master of close-ups. From him, I learnt the slight pursing of the lips, just a little cringing of the neck, all of which were so effective in front of the camera. There were a lot of films I did, some did well, some did not, but I learnt a lot from all of them.

Among the other directors I worked with were Indu (Indra Kumar) and Raj Kumar Santoshi, whom I would love to work with again. Sooraj Barjatya was also a very nice and soft-spoken person. I remember while doing ‘Abodh’, he was an assistant, and like any other person in the unit, he used to sit on the floor, eat his food and be with other lightmen, and we did not know who he was. One day, my mom asked me, ‘Why does that person keep looking at you and writing something all the time?’ I too noticed that he used to stare at me and write something, so I called one of the assistant directors and asked him who he was and why he kept looking at me and writing. He told me that he was doing the continuity for the movie. So he used to observe what I was wearing in my ears etc and note that down for the continuity. Then, he told me that he was Raj Babu’s son.

Later, when he wanted to make a movie and approached me, he gave me a narration of exactly three-and-a-half hours - that’s how long the movie was. He had all the songs planned; he had recorded a few of them and also played them for me during the narration. And I just loved it as he was so organized and we made ‘Hum Aapke Hai Kaun’.

The other person I remember is Yashji. They are typical Punjus, very loud, gregarious, and I really loved working with them in ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ and ‘Aaja Nachle’.

Gossip & family reactions

Though there was a lot of gossip written about me at that time, my parents knew me very well. They trusted me, they knew I would make the right decisions; they said we have given you the values and we leave it to you to make the right decisions.

Moreover, during that time, I was so busy that there was no time for distractions. It was just one day after another. I used to wake up at 7 o’clock and sleep by 10.30 –11 p.m and sometimes even later than that. While I was doing ‘Tezaab’, I remember once we shot all day and night and till 10 o’clock the next day. So there was no time for anything else.

Meeting Dr Shriram Nene - the love of her life

Actually, it was my brother Ajit who was responsible for my meeting Ram. He orchestrated it. Through mutual friends he had met Ram’s parents and really liked them and they told him about their son. You know how it is, ‘Khichdi paka rahe the waha pe’ and I did not know anything. Then one day, Ajit called me and said, ‘Why don’t you take your vacation a little earlier this year?’ Every year, I made it a point to go to the US for a vacation to meet my siblings. I said ok and planned my holiday accordingly.

Ajit had a little party at his house and he called Ram and his parents and a few other friends. Ram and I met, and took to each other instantly. After they left, my brother asked me, ‘How do you like that boy?’ and that’s when the tubelight went on. I said, ‘Yes, he is nice’. Then he told me why he had asked me to come early - Ram had his vacation at that time and he wanted me to meet him. So we met a few times during that week and dated for three to four months after that, and since we liked each other, we decided to get married.

Ram also didn’t know that the meeting was planned with a purpose. In fact, he was sure that he was not going to have an arranged marriage. Apparently, his mom had tried to set him up with this one and that one, and he didn’t seem to like the idea, and would tell his mom, ‘I can find someone on my own’. I was also of the same opinion but when you have siblings, these things are bound to happen. They are going to try and set you up with someone. But I am glad it happened and I found that someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And that was wonderful.

After four months, Ram proposed to me and I told my mom about it. She said, ‘Are you sure? It’s just four months, think about it’. I told her, ‘But mom, you guys set me up, right?’ She said, ‘Yes, but I don’t want you to do anything in a hurry. You can take your time, and think about it’. I said, ‘Mom, I have thought about it’. So that was it!

A million hearts broken - A secret shaadi?

At that point, Sanjay Leela Bhansali had approached me for ‘Devdas’, and I was doing ‘Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam’ and ‘Yaraana’. From 1995 onwards, I started doing two to three films a year as I had worked so hard till then that I felt I needed to take it easy now. I needed to do films on my terms. I came to India but didn’t declare anything, because before that the press used to get me married off every year. And I used to think if I get married, I will announce it. I would love the world to know that I am married. After seven years of torture when they used to get me married off every year, finally when I did decide to get married, I said I don’t want anyone to know. I want them to get shocked!

So I got married in the US and came to Mumbai. Nobody knew about it except my secretary. But because I had said ‘yes’ for ‘Devdas’, it was my duty to tell Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I told him that this is the case and asked him if he still wanted me in the movie as he was making a big budget movie. So in the industry he was the first one to know. I called him home and told him to think about it and told him that if he didn’t want me in the movie, I would totally understand and would not hold it against him. He said he would think about it, went back and then called me and said, ‘I don’t care if you are married or not married’. So I told him that I am going to declare it, it’s not going to be a secret shaadi or something ridiculous like that.

Leaving Bollywood for marriage?

Everybody has a dream for themselves. For me, the dream was to have a good marriage and family; that was very important. When I met Ram, I knew he was the kind of person I wanted in my life. I didn’t have any doubts, I was very sure that this is what I wanted for myself.

As for leaving everything behind, I love dancing, acting and I enjoyed myself when I did all those movies. I enjoyed all the success and everything but I felt something was missing in my life and when I met Ram, I found that. So it was not very hard to take that decision because for me, marriage was important. Also, for me to leave all that (acting) behind was not at all a problem because I always knew that acting will always be there for me if I want to go back to it. It was not the end of the world. I never said or believed that once you are married, you cannot work. And nor did my husband believe in it because he is very modern and has grown up in the US. So it was not as if he or his family would stop me from doing what I wanted to do. His sister is a corporate lawyer, his mom is a real estate agent; so everyone in their family worked. They believed that you have to have your own identity, so in that sense I knew that nobody was going to stop me from doing something if I wanted to. But at that juncture in my life, it was important for me to get married and have children because that is what my dream was. Along with my success and profession, that was also a part of my dream which I wanted to fulfil.

Patti, Patni aur films

In the US, we lived in Gainesville, Florida. Ram was doing his Residency and it was the most gruelling Residency ever. I used to hardly see him once or twice in a week as he had to be at the hospital all the time. And since I hardly used to see him, I told him, let me work. I did not know anyone in Florida and used to get bored in the house. He too used to feel tortured about me being alone in the house. So he said, go ahead and do whatever you have to as these two years are going to be very difficult for me. Those two years just flew by as I was so busy and he was very busy too. And I am glad I did ‘Devdas’ then as that role is close to my heart. It had kathak in it and all the nuances and everything that I was trained for.

Life in the US

For someone who was going to the US for the first time, initially, things could come as a shock because here, you have to do everything yourself. If you want to shop for something, you can’t send your driver, you have to go and get whatever you need. It is lonely too as your families are back in India.

But for me, it was different as my family was here. My siblings are all here and I knew what to expect and I knew what kind of life was in store for me in the US, as I have seen my siblings live here. So in that sense, nothing was shocking for me. But the hardest part for me was that in all these years, ever since I was 16 and out of college, I was so protected that I was never left alone. There was always someone with me, my mom, dad or my staff. And in public, there was always a bodyguard or someone with me, so I was always surrounded by people.

And here when I had to go out on my own for the first time, it was scary. Not because I would get recognized or mobbed, the fear was of doing things on my own. But on the other hand, it did give me such a sense of freedom that I could do whatever I wanted. I could just take the car and go wherever I wanted; I was my own master and I did whatever I wanted to without be scrutinized, without being looked at or followed. It was great fun.

From being a star to a regular citizen

Well even though I was a star, I was always a normal human being. All my dreams were normal. I would be most happy if I walked into a room and nobody recognized me, it wouldn’t hurt me at all. I would just go about my business. Though I won’t deny the pleasure of being recognized, let me tell you that I have always been a very private person. So even here, when I go out, I am always wishing and praying that I hope nobody looks at me and says, ‘Oh, you are Madhuri Dixit’. But it’s like a dichotomy because you want to be recognized and that’s what you are working for, but then there is this private you who wants to lead your own life too. So it’s fun when you can be part of both worlds.

As for a social life, I do have quite a few friends here, some from Ram’s side and some friends who I made here. There are some Americans, some Indians, it’s a mixed friends’ circle – and most of them are wonderful people. We get along famously and celebrate a lot of festivals together like Ganpati, Diwali and Holi.

Family time

The Nene Family
Even when I was working, I lived a very normal life, but now it is certainly more of family life. I drop my kids (Arin and Ryan, Ryan is in kindergarten and Arin is in second grade) to school, pick them up, check their homework and do everything that a parent is supposed to do. The one meal we have together is dinner, so usually we have a good dinner. For lunch, we eat very normal stuff like sandwiches or salads.

My kids are into skiing and the older one is trying to snowboard now, so we go to the mountains often… I give them lessons, and I take lessons from them. It’s a little scary when you learn these sports later in life. Now, for me, the fear is about breaking my leg and the doctor telling me that I can’t dance anymore. That would be worse, so I’d rather do my dancing which I enjoy more than skiing. I visit India often, but we also take vacations to other places.

Since these are the most formative years of my kids’ lives, I want to spend this time with them as after they go to the third grade, they will become more independent and by then you have imparted your values to them. Finally, however, it’s up to them what they do with those values. Now that they are both in school, I have a little time to do something that I would like to do. I have started to practice my kathak.

Bollywood calling?

Many scripts have been sent to me, but once I select the one I like, I will definitely let everyone know. In fact, just the other day my son asked me, ‘Why don’t you work in movies anymore?’ I told him that I wanted to spend my time with them, but now that they are in school, maybe I could work. So he said, ‘Yaa!’ It was an amazing feeling because that was my younger son talking. They have seen some of my films like ‘Devdas’, ‘Aaja Nachle’ and some others. They liked them because obviously their mama was in them; the only thing they don’t like is to see me crying on screen.

I’d like to do roles that suit me. Of course, now I cannot act like a 16-year-old and run around trees. I watched ‘Rajneeti’ the other day and I think it was a brilliant movie. There were no songs, no dances, just performances and the characters were so well woven. I think Indian cinema has matured, so there will be roles written and there will be the right kind of stuff for me too, I am sure about that!

Interviewed by Prashant Rane
Source: Savvy (March 2011)
Sanjay Naik
8/2/2014 11:56:37 am

We very impress


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