Happy Birthday Madhuri Dixit: The Leading Lady of the '90s Who Overshadowed Her Heroes

·4-min read

From the poster of a film to its last scene, and from the long queue outside the ticket counters to how the film fared eventually – everything has long been dependent on the male superstars of the industry. Everything was about them in Bollywood. The heroes of our industry have long enjoyed being in the spotlight. However, when these heroes were dominating spaces with their looks, body, appeal, and star factor, there was this woman from a simple Marathi family, slowly overshadowing them with the charm of her smile, the ‘adah’ in her moves, and of course, her effortless acting.

On her 54th birthday, we take a look at how, the ‘Dhak Dhak’ girl of Bollywood, Madhuri Dixit was a ‘shero’ of the 1980s-1990s who could successfully make the industry revolve around a woman, for a change.

Dixit made her Bollywood debut with Abodh (1984) which did not perform well but turned a few eyeballs towards her erupting talent. After a couple of more films that failed to hit the mark, she got her first big break with Tezaab, opposite Anil Kapoor. It was in this film that the dancing diva enthralled the audience with the iconic ‘thumkas’ in the song ‘Ek Do Teen.’ The film became a golden jubilee and was the highest blockbuster at the box office upon its release, giving a push to Dixit’s career. Her next collaboration with Anil Kapoor was in the 1989 film Ram Lakhan which had an ensemble cast. In this box office hit movie, not many films old Dixit made her own space among actors who were already established in the industry.

Her subsequent films like Ram Lakhan (1989), Dil (1990), Saajan(1991), Beta (1992), and Khal Nayak (1993) were either the top-grossing or one of the top-grossing at the box office in their respective year of release. By this time, she had already established herself as a skillful actress, and the stardom had also started to follow.

While all these films had big actors from the industry, but it was Dixit’s appeal that surpassed them all. For instance, in Sajan, where she was cast opposite Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt, it was two tough heroes balancing out one Madhuri. Dil and Anjaam (1994) had Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan respectively but both were Madhuri Dixit films at the end of the day, and the same was the case with Beta where she snatched the limelight from Anil Kapoor once again. Khal Nayak, despite having Dutt and Jackie Shroff, saw Dixit in a role of a headstrong cop who didn’t let the male actors take away her share of purpose in the film.

The popularity of an otherwise commercial unsuccessful film Raja (1995) was not attributed to the hero Sanjay Kapoor, but Madhuri who completely overshadowed him and established herself as an independent box office entity who was enough to sell the films she was in. It was enough for the filmmakers to realize that Dixit’s name was a formula to success and the heroes quietly took the backseat.

A jolly, sensuous yet forceful presence on screen, she was often paid more than the heroes starring opposite her. For Hum Aapke Hai Kaun (1994), she charged more than her co-star Salman Khan, making her one of the highest-paid actresses of that era. She was turning the tide in a space where power belonged to only one gender.

Another factor that has always been an important element in Bollywood films is its extravagant songs and dance numbers, and Dixit shone in this space, too. With back to back hits, she was also producing dance numbers we still groove to, including Choli Ke Peeche from Khal Nayak, Ek Do Teen (Tezaab), Dhak Dhak (Beta), Didi Tera Devar Deewana (Hum Aapke Hai Kaun), Akhiyaan Milaoon (Raja) and many more.

However, being on the top didn’t mean she played safe to retain her position. At a time when heroines were eye candy and a plot point for the hero to reach his destiny, she was talking up risky, stereotype breaking roles. Even while playing the love interest of heroes, she showed she was more than that- she was strong, rebellious, charming and ambitious all at once. It was as if writers were writing the roles keeping her in mind.

After her wedding in 1999, she continued to do some more films including Pukar, Lajja, Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, and Devdas, following which she took a sabbatical of five years. She returned with Aaja Nachle in 2007 and is actively making screen appearances even now.

However, unfortunately, not many could walk on the path she had carved with her unapologetic personality as the present generation many heroines have again gone back to playing second fiddles to the leading star.

So, what she achieved a couple of decades back in a more patriarchal and less inclusive setting can be considered a testimony to her legacy and a statement on her star power. It is also proof that there can be several successful stars but not a second Madhuri Dixit, who still makes millions of hearts go ‘Dhak Dhak.’

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