Chit Chat

There was no rivalry between Juhi and me: Madhuri Dixit

The Dhak Dhak girl of the 90s hasn’t changed a tad. Her infectious laughter, her endearing personality and her desire to stay true to her roots are still the way they were when she left India for Denver post marriage. Just before her upcoming release Gulaab Gang, Madhuri Dixit-Nene visited the Bombay Times office and opened up on Bollywood back then and now, her equation with Juhi Chawla and how close she was to getting a black belt in Taekwondo.

Rajjo, your character in Gulaab Gang has many rough edges. How different are you as a person?
The rough edges that she has, I don’t think I can pick up a lathi and beat up a person firstly because of who I am and secondly, because that’s not how we grew up. But sometimes you do feel like doing it. I used to go to Dadar for my 12th classes in the train. I remember we would carry rolls of thick paper, so if anyone came close on the platforms, we would use that. That’s how we made our way through everyone. There are times when you want to do that and through Rajjo, I did that. Yes, I can’t lift a lathi unless it is a matter of life and death. In real life, we are more civilised. But it was very cathartic when I did it.

You’ve been in the industry for more than two decades and have done so many films. Of all the roles you’ve done, which character are you closest to in real life?
I think there are smatterings of me in all the characters I have played. Like Rajjo, she believes in women empowerment, she believes that women need to be educated and be given the tools to stand up on their own two feet. Also, Ketki in Mrityudand, when she marries into a feudal family where she discovers that women aren’t treated well; she’s up in arms by the end of the movie. Or say a Nisha (from Hum Aapke Hain Koun), who’s very sweet, very breezy, the way I am, puts the family values ahead. Or say a Lajja where she fights for her own rights.

You have done your own action sequences in Gulaab Gang. How tough was that?
There’s no stunt or body double. Even my gang — Divya, Priyanka, Tanishhta — had no doubles. What helped… In Denver, I used to take my kids for Taekwondo. They used to learn, while I would sit and watch for an hour. By the fourth day, I thought, why can’t I do this? Then, we did family classes, where my husband, kids and I took classes together. We were five classes away from a black belt. We used to do nunchucks and breaking boards. That experience helped me. A master from Shaolin, Kanishka, gave us a little training on hand-to-hand combat. How it is done, how to use little weapons, what is the correct way of holding a lathi when you’re hitting someone. There was also a fight master Parvez, who helped us. You know it is very similar to dancing, because there is rhythm and movements.

Juhi Chawla, your co-star, essays a negative role. Are you open to negative roles?
I am an actor and I should never say no to roles. I have done a character in Pukar with negative shades, though I wouldn’t call it a negative character because she is just in the wrong place at the wrong time and makes wrong decisions. But, to be mean on screen, it has a different punch to it, it is very spicy. If a role makes sense to me even though it’s negative, I’d love to do it.

Do you think male actors have more benefits when it comes to longevity, because after you left, almost two generations of actresses have come. But your leading heroes are still romancing women half their age…
Well, men don’t have to bear children. For me, I come from a large family and my husband and children were very important. Some women work while they are pregnant, but not me. That was a choice I had made.That’s when I took a break. Men can work at whatever stage they are, whether they turn daddy, they still have their own thing. But women can’t afford that because by being mothers, they have to be there for their kids. As far as longevity goes, I don’t agree, because I feel yes, there might be bias, but that’s there in other industries as well. But things are changing and I am very optimistic about that. Age is just a number and your talent will never fail you. It has no expiry date.

You recently shook a leg with Ranbir Kapoor in a song. Which younger actors would you like to work with?
There are so many of them. I am not saying I want to act with them, but to answer your question, there is Ranbir, Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor and Varun Dhawan. But, there has to be the right kind of role.

You refused to play Sonam’s mother and Rajinikanth’s sister in different films recently…
It was not about not wanting to play those roles. I should also like the roles, right? It was about me liking them.

Are you open to taking up supporting roles?
What do you mean by supporting roles? I will do films that excite me. If there is a role that excites me, I will do it. If it doesn’t excite me, I won’t do it.

What was the conversation with Juhi like on the set, considering you were pitted as rivals in the 90s?
It was good. We had lots of scenes together. We first met at the office for a narration. While we were there, they left us and walked out. They thought they’ll hear voices and we’ll pull each other’s hair. Everyone was outside, waiting. We were very cool about it. There was no rivalry, I never believed in it. For me, there was no ice to be broken. I’ve done two-heroine projects before, with Preity, Aishwarya, Manisha and Karisma. I’ve always had a blast. We spoke about the role, the movie, about how kids are growing up today, what to let them watch, what she lets them watch and stuff like that.

You are such a great dancer. Anyone in Bollywood who you think dances well?
In actors, Ranbir is good and of course, Prabhu Dheva and Hrithik Roshan. There is also Shahid, who dances well. In the newer lot, there is Varun who dances so well, he is so energetic. There is also Ranveer. Among the girls, Deepika; I love the way she danced in Nagada Sang Dhol Baje. Very graceful. Then there is Priyanka and Katrina, who worked so hard in Dhoom 3 and Chikni Chameli.

Have you taught Dr Nene any steps?
I don’t need to teach him. He moves quite well. The whole floor is his.

Are actresses today luckier that they get to play more well-rounded roles?
There are many things which are different, but all good. The scripts are ready. There is much more discipline. Physically, for an actor, it is much less painful than it used to be. If we were shooting in the street, we used to sit out in the sun under our umbrellas and we never had vanity vans. But today, actors are made more comfortable. We used to shoot in Ooty, if we needed to go, we used to go to the jungles. Today, it is physically less taxing. The script is ready, what you are going to wear, everything is worked out. Once the film starts, it ends on time. They are working in a much better era. But, of course, it was much more spontaneous at that time. I remember sometimes we used to be on the set waiting for dialogues to be written. We worked during such strange situations but yet we made good films. Women-oriented films, even then, used to be an avenger kind of film where the woman rises to revolt in the end. But now, the characters are very well-etched out and it’s a wonderful era to be in. Even in production, I had never seen a woman assistant director in my time. Today there are so many. Today, there are women behind the camera, women writing scripts, women directors, so, it’s a wonderful time.

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