I'm a French lover of Indian cinema, but I'm also interested in literature, science, art, and reflection in general. This blog will reflect these tastes more or less!
With his title “The dark prince” I am not so much referring to Ajay’s skin colour, even though there
are only few among the best-known Bollywood stars that do have a dark skin, but more to his character, what I can guess of it. I’ve always felt in him a sort of broodiness, a mystery, which his
marriage to Kajol – pretty much the opposite I would say – hasn’t dispelled. I didn’t know before calling him like that that Amitabh Bachchan had done so before, almost: “the dark horse of
Bollywood”! (here) There is
something intense and powerful in Ajay’s personality, something commanding, and not without its own charm. This charm is made of a very masculine style, proud chin, strong bones, but most of all,
I’d say, it’s the eyes that create it. It seems he’s drowsy half the time, even drunk in some photos. He looks around as if he’s made an effort to come, as though you’ve troubled his slumber and
might incur his wrath! Yes, there’s something animal, stallion-like why not, or bearish, but I prefer the prince metaphor. He has the superior pride, the detachment and the ease associated with
the legendary moguls (well, who knows?!), a mixture of effortless strength, ironic authority and natural charm.
Critics often mention his originality, the fact that he has trodden his path at
his own pace, has come from action films to romance and from acting to producing and directing. I don’t know that all that is SO very original, after all, Ajay has been fed on cinema, he has
always evolved in and around the industry (his father was a renowned stuntsman), so in fact I’d say it’s his world. He’s an intelligent guy, enterprising, surprising even, but as far as I’m
concerned, and by international standards, I couldn’t say more. It’s true he’s explored roles that other might have turned down, roles in “serious” movies such as Yuva or Raincoat, and has had a political involvement (from what I read, he joined the PJB in 2004). I wonder if
that has anything to do with playing in Yuva: or perhaps it’s the other way round? While I’m at it, I also enjoyed him in Khakee, and I’ve seen him
in some masalas such as Chori Chori or Hum dil de chuke sanam, but you’ll agree with me these aren’t
the most demanding of films! And I’ve seen some rather poor shows, unfortunately sometimes produced by Ajay himself (Raju Chacha, Hum kisi se kum Nahin, Ishq) I’ve not seen Omkara, in which he’s said to be quite good.
(He can smile!)
I’d like to explore another feeling that I have when considering Ajay Devgan. I was watching a few videos where he appears alongside Kajol, and was struck by what I don’t know how to interpret completely, but which is a mixture of haughtiness, or shyness, and certainly a self-consciousness that he can’t really master. He’s always got that finger on his mouth, and seems retiring, and ill at ease in front of the camera. It’s strange he should be, considering his career, but it’s a fact. There is one moment where he’s standing next to Kajol, she’s holding his arm, but he’s almost moving away from her, as if he wasn’t really pleased to be with her! I even thought I saw her looking at him with a “what’s the matter, why are you so distant?” sort of look. Okay, I don’t want to make a lot of it, but I think that this is part of what I called his mystery. Ajay doesn’t completely coalesce with show-business, he has that complex of superiority, that absence of a real sense of humour; he never knows for sure if he’s not overshadowed by others, Kajol first of course. The people’s princess is such a glow next to him!
And so, who knows, perhaps this retiring personality, this inability for the
“real Ajay” to feel completely at ease in the “public Ajay”’s clothes, perhaps this is what owes us his originality and his passion? If you fit too perfectly in the persona which the public has
created for you, isn’t there a risk that you become too predictable? The public is like a lover: if it has fallen in love with you, it wants you always the same, it doesn’t want you to change,
you’re a prisoner of that character which it needs you to perform. Up to a certain extent, Ajay’s luck is that he can’t conform to his public image, somehow he’s ill at ease with it, and so he
gains an aura of inscrutability which paradoxically endears him to his fans. If he’s clever enough, he just needs to cultivate this mysterious, superior airs! In fact I think he does just that:
for me his frequent dark glasses are a way to establish that calculated distance from us. It might even mean that he’s falling prey to the star-system! He can’t really be blamed for that, but the
risks are that he’ll lose some of his soul-searching in the process! He’ll definitely need to come back to more demanding films where he doesn’t need to pander to the public’s tastes, but help
invent artistically satisfying characters. Hard work, risk-taking and modesty: that shouldn’t displease him!
One might say the 21 year old glamgirl called Ayesha Takia is rather young to be commented upon at great depth; one would be wrong, because there is a great deal to be said about and around her. Let’s start with the beginning: a few months ago, I wrote this article about Sex and Bollywood. And two of the photos I found to illustrate what I had to say on the subject were (perhaps a hasty choice?) of Ayesha Takia in very suggestive poses (little voice: nothing hasty there! Lots of preparation). No nudity, mind, but we all know that sexiness goes much beyond skin exposure. In fact, true eroticism needs clothes to suggest what an exposed body can’t do, because it doesn’t hide anything anymore. So, anyway, in my mind, the young lady was henceforth categorized as not much more than a bimbo. So when I recently came upon Daddy's girl's blog speaking about her fascination for Ayesha, I exclaimed: “has she got a soul?”… “Of course”, said DG. And so I started on my quest for her soul!!
First stop: Socha na tha. In that little movie, that I quite appreciated (I admit: so did I), she’s a serious young woman who tries to live her life the best she can, and knows that she’s doing something she doesn’t completely approve of when she lets herself fall in love with a boy who’s already somebody’s boyfriend. But, like all of us, she half-lies to herself, as we see when she defends herself in front of her parents, and at the same time, she’s truthful: she could stop this pleasant relationship, and she does, in fact, when she sees it’s becoming too complicated. Ayesha Takia plays reasonably well, and the way she deals with her character shows a personality which certainly is not that of a sex bomb (again, have to admit it). This is corroborated by what she says herself:
"I cannot do what Meghna Naidu, Mallika Sherawat or Neha Dhupia did in 'Hawas', 'Murder', and 'Julie' respectively. Neither can I do a 'Girlfriend.' Yes, I can wear short tops and minis, but I would be uncomfortable wearing anything more revealing. And don't forget Bhagyashree and Juhi Chawla never did any bold and brazen stuff in their first ventures to get noticed. 'Taarzan' will get noticed, and then, so will Vatsal and me."(link)
Then I saw her in Dor, another very nice film where her character is of course very far from any suggestion that she (or the film-maker, producers, etc) is using her body or looks to attract more spectators. She’s in fact quite remarkable for an actress of her age, very confident, very convincing. She pulls off the difficult task of seeming both a widow, with all it means in terms of suffering and frustration in that region of India, and a girl who realises she does have a right to life and pleasure, that what she feels in spite of the guilt pressed on her, is not wrong at all. Her round face is beautiful only when she smiles, and without any makeup she strikes us as a rather ordinary young woman. What she says here is I believe a reflection on that attitude:
“There’re things that I wouldn’t do, like kiss and wear certain kinds of clothes. And yes that does put me at a disadvantage. But I’m very happy with the work that I’m getting. After Dor, I’m being taken seriously as an actress.”
Her saying no to kissing, is however, causing her to lose out on parts but Ayesha says, “But I don’t mind losing out on roles. At least ten years from now I don’t want to look back and cringe at anything. I’ve a family and a boyfriend. And I don’t want to embarrass anyone.”
What she does in films – from what I was able to judge - is indeed in keeping
with those words. But the pictures that we see here and there on the net tell another story (don't they, too!) :
She has obviously accepted to play the game of submitting to the male dominated star-system. A system which needs her for example to add some padding in her bra… And needs to see her in positions and clothing that male fantasies appreciate much more (arched back, uplifted arms, etc.)
And so that’s my examination: why does she seem to make such a difference between how she shows herself in films and outside them? Does she understand the impact she makes? (little voice: course she does, come on!) Is she blissfully unaware, or carelessly neglectful? One possible answer is that “today’s values have changed”. Witness what this article says about Preeti Jhingiani, in a discussion intended to explain the issue with Ayesha Takia:
And while this mum takes her daughter's job as just that, a job, Govind Jhingiani, Preeti Jhingiani's dad, feels that exposure in films is just a part of an evolving society. "There's a lot of skin show now as compared to the yesteryears. But change is a natural process and competition exists everywhere. Preeti has a flair for acting, so we gave her liberty to enter this field." But considering the fact that Preeti was the first one to enter films in their family, wasn't it difficult for her parents to give her the green signal? "Not having a filmi background puts us at a disadvantage actually. If we had connections in Bollywood, we would have known the industry better. Nevertheless, Preeti took an individual decision, and we decided to guide her," adds Govind. (Ayesha Takia Fan Site)
I believe there’s some truth here. But I’d also say that, at barely 22, Ayesha Takia is still playing, playing with her image, playing with the media. She’s looking at herself in the mirror, and enjoying what she sees, as much as all of us. She probably thinks there’s no harm in playing the bimbo as she does in these photos. Let’s say she’s manipulated by our sex-ridden society, then, where skin and suggestive poses are trivialised. But on the other hand, saying as she does that she doesn’t want to embarrass anyone and not wear certain types of clothes is rather naïve: she doesn’t embarrass a society who is only too pleased to set eyes on her tight outfits and buxom shape! She’s already started “adapting” to her public image, and pandering to the tastes of lusty males isn’t difficult. Perhaps she’s not consciously doing that yet, but in our star-obsessed media-run society, there are so many subtle suggestions and temptations that she can submit to without needing to admit that that’s what she’s doing! We can compare her to other Bollywood actresses like Rani Mukherjee or Kajol: they’ve not submitted to that level of “sexposure”, even if it’s of course a question of degree.
Bollywood is of the XXIst century, there’s no need to deny that, and I have no
desire to go back in time. I openly appreciate girls like Ayesha Takia, and don’t see much harm to her attitude. But in her openly modern image, there’s something of our contradictions that
linger: we are satisfied with women’s relaxed attitude towards their bodies, in reaction to centuries of male oppression, but on the other hand, we still recognise that there is something
degrading in reducing women to their physical appearance, and fantasizing about some predefined shapes which dictate their measurements to young and old. The trouble is with all of us. In fact,
we could even say the way Ayesha Takia deals with that contradiction is a rather refreshing one. She accepts to appear in front of the cameras and strike poses that men around the world will
gorge upon, but she resists doing anything sexy in films. So much so that somebody has said: “she is the most decent girl in bollywood i
know” (Ayesha Takia - Biography)!!
(yeah! we've finally found her soul!)
Those who have read this blog for some time know that I had loved Monsoon wedding, that little gem of a film, and
well, I’ve recently watched Salaam Bombay and The Namesake, along with Mira Nair’s 1985 documentary on
women strippers, Indian Cabaret: all this made me wonder: what sort of woman is Mira Nair? Looking though websites about her, one is rapidly
confronted with a few that show her very much at ease in public, expressing herself with an intelligence and a strength that are a real treat. “So that’s where it all comes from”, I thought. “It” for me meant a combination of qualities rarely seen in Indian cinema (and rewarded by many international
awards). First of course, an unrelenting realism, which sets her films apart from so many other conventional films (and for me conventions are not a bad thing, it all depends how they are used).
This interest in reality, which means, if you are dealing with India, the overwhelmingly present middle or lower classes, and not the magnificent sons and daughters of the affluent high society,
which Bollywood so often targets to sell its dreams.
Films that aren’t fictionalised fantasies but social and moral weapons to fight
against injustice, cruelty, hypocrisy, prejudice, and machismo: could such films meet with success? Well, they do, and perhaps their success is in part a sign of their quality, a sign that they
have helped change things! So realism. Then, an interest for education. Mira Nair obviously thinks that education is essential. And not only the education of women, which is of course central, as
one can see in Monsoon Wedding. Children, naturally (witness her foundation “Salaam Balak”, directed to the education of street children), but also
adults. Salaam Bombay also says that adults (grown-up children…) are locked up in prejudice and
ignorance, and that from there poverty and violence flow. Drug addiction is a companion of under-development just as much as it’s a reality of our developed nations. The same can be said of
prostitution. Only education can start freeing men and women from these scourges. And the fact that they still rage in civilised countries is an indication of how much education itself still
needs to be educated.
There is a talk (the Harvard talk with John Lithgrow, cf. the banner
above) in which Mira Nair tells of how men flocked to see Indian Cabaret because they thought it was going to be voyeuristic. And she says it was
essential for men to be confronted to this denunciation of their own voyeurism. She says she travelled by Greyhound Bus at one stage with Indian
Cabaret under her arm, and talked with the public about this addiction to the conventional roles or the double standard which women undergo in the Indian society. Educating the public’s
eyesight and knowledge about social roles is not an easy task. Certainly the fact that she’s a woman has helped (women suffer less from the seduction of appearances, I think) and an educated
woman too. After studies at Delhi University and Harvard, where she has studied drama and sociology, she’s wanted to use her skills to forward her own interests and tackle the issues she feels
about: the themes of culture, of language, of exile, of identity. Her perspective is one of a resourceful humanity, but which needs to be enlightened and encouraged towards a better life and a
Mira Nair doesn’t have only friends (check this review, of her 2005 Vanity Fair. Sorry, it’s in French). But it’s true that this critic considers Salaam Bombay a “Hollywoodian” film! Critics are always interesting, even if they go too far, because this makes me think that Mira Nair’s documentary style suffers here and there from a certain didactic tone, a certain difficulty at creating rhythm and power. For me, this was noticeable especially in The Namesake. Truly, that film didn’t create in me a very lasting impression. I can’t exactly pinpoint what is wrong: is it simply too lank? I appreciated Kal Penn’s character, and Tabu’s… Perhaps Mira Nair’s sociological approach means that she’s not first and foremost a story-teller. And she does sometimes sacrifice the fluidity of the story-line to the importance of the message. In the Harvard speech mentioned above, she says:
"My idea" for Salaam Bombay! was to "amalgamate" the "inexplicability of everyday life that we have in documentary" with "gesture, drama, and the controlled situation that we have in fiction."
Well, I’m not sure that process is completely under control yet! (even if I realise that saying this I’m rather critical towards a film which I keenly appreciated). So in fact, the limited time (one month!) and budget with which Monsoon Wedding was made probably explains why it’s so satisfying artistically. Salaam Bombay suffers perhaps because it was experimented on a rather long period. This ambitious attitude does also do her credit: I learned that she declined the direction of the fifth instalment of Harry Potter, because the script wasn’t creative enough. This shows both that she was judged an able enough director internationally, and also that she can retain her independence and her ideals even when they are more worldly interests at stake.
I want to finish by saying how much I appreciated watching the lady gliding
effortlessly through her descriptions of her experience as a film-maker. She has that assurance and enthusiasm that pleases immediately, and an intelligence (I realise I’m repeating myself) which
means she’ll understand her limitations, and will amend them. I cannot enough encourage Bollywood lovers to discover her work.
Er, couldn't resist adding that one!!
A little addendum to let you know of my recent pleasure at watching Migration thanks to Jaman (note July 2012: they have cancelled the film there and so the link now directs you to YouTube - but there's no subtitles). This 2007 Short (12 min) can be watched there for free, and it’s another testimony to Mira Nair’s clever treatment of today’s social problems. Here’s the little review I posted there:
“A very strong little movie, which functions on your intelligence the same way that AIDS spreads among people who aren't prudent enough: through slow realization of its power and presence. You don't see AIDS, but once you understand its effects, they are shattering. Likewise, the film's allusiveness, its clever intertwining of stories suddenly explodes at the end, and reveal its effectiveness.
For as a spectator, you can easily pity the lonely and lovelorn characters who fight against themselves, against their desires, and would like to hurt no one in so doing. But they forget that the virus knows no pity, no compassion, and strikes blindly. All we are left with is a sobering realization that truth often comes too late.”
Let's start by saying I don’t like Aamir Khan. I don’t like him because he’s bossy, because he’s arrogant, because he’s superior. Somehow I never feel at ease with him. He makes me tense; he obliges me to rise to his level, whereas I prefer actors who descend to my level. I have the feeling that I’m always asked to notice how good he is. Perhaps this is due to his reputation: he’s famous for concentrating on one film at a time, refusing scenarios that don’t have any content, involving himself in his roles totally, and even if this attitude should normally speak in his favour, it still doesn’t work. He’s too elitist, probably, too proud. And the fact that this superiority goes along with what I’d call a personality cult (he’s got all those Aamir Khan blogs you know) is a sort of confirmation that he’s grinding an axe: perhaps that happy go lucky Bollywood that is so lavish and just for the fun of it? One more thing: when I watch him in most of his films – the ones I’ve seen at least – there he is, aggressive, virile, ironical. And you can’t escape him, he’s got the main role. There just isn’t enough self-humour and he takes himself far too seriously. Perhaps it’s a sign of immaturity (I was going to write: immunity!)? But he’s already 43! We rarely see him in a negative light, let alone a self-pitying one. Rather he has his image to uphold, his manly task to do. Then again, perhaps it’s my problem: I don’t fancy too much manhood. That manhood.
Okay, so now I’ve spat all my venom, let’s see if I can be more constructive… Aamir Khan. As a westerner, I should like this guy. He’s hard-working, dedicated, he tackles serious issues, he’s done good films, he’s not interested in money for the sake of money; he doesn’t do masala and all that cheesy sentimentality, that gaudiness (although when he was younger, he dappled in it aplenty) (that’s probably my secret grudge, I like all this myself so much!!!). One might say he’s grown into a respectable actor and director. Being choosy about what one does in Bollywood is so rare that it has to be noted. He’s modern, reachable, he believes in himself and he takes risks. He’s a versatile, clever little man who has not only acted and directed but also sang as a playback singer and produced his recent films.
One thing nevertheless that I am still worried about is, why don’t we see him in movies alongside other male stars? I looked for him in that funny all-stars sequence in Om Shanti Om, but I didn’t see him, nor do I remember seeing him in other Unbelievable Worldwide tours next to the other Khans - Saif Ali, Salman, Shahrukh, you know, all those boisterous, superficial, muscle-flexing machos. Okay, he’s with some of them in Dil Chahta Hai, you nailed me. But in that film where he condescends to be with Akshaye and Saif, he’s that brooding Akash who doesn’t believe in love! I admit he plays quite well, you can’t take that away from him, but precisely, what a symbolical role. Chosen friendship, and then love, but grudgingly. How far this all seems from the colourful, unrestrained, wider-than-life fantasy of so many Bollywood extravaganzas! And yet Aamir can have fun! He can dance and sing, and rave. But he must be at centre stage! I realise that this is in fact quite typical of the hero-oriented Bollywood mainstream. Yet I think Aamir needs this position more than others, whereas he strikes me as capable of shining without asking for it. Given his comedian’s skills, he could safely grace any film without necessarily lording it all that much.
Aamir is a perfectionist; we read this all the time. He’s a real professional. He’s interested
in the important issues, and probably he sees his career as a mission. His culture, his country can benefit from an intelligent and committed activist like him, or let’s say that anyway, he has
things to say to address the problems he feels deeply about, and he’s using the cinema to do that. Fine. Let’s take the example of Rang de Basanti, by Rakesh Mehra. The film has lengthy, cliché bits, but it undoubtedly tackles real problems
that plague modern India, and it does so in an original way. That Aamir is part of that significant way of joining an understanding of the past (thanks to acting), to a consciousness of the ills
of the present, that’s a sign he’s definitely choosing his films well. His involvement as producer in Lagaan is also interesting. Not only is he (as
actor) a powerful mouthpiece for Gowariker who is clearly addressing some of India’s social problems (cf. Swades), but he (as producer) enables the
cinema to be reckoned as a political weapon. In Fanaa, by Kunal Kohli, he puts on a very good show too. He’s first that bratty tourist guide who
half-heartedly falls for the innocent blind villager girl, and then he’s that hardened nationalist or ideologist who must deal with the moral problems of being also a father and a husband. He’s
sometimes betrayed by the film’s contortions, but on the whole, he’s very believable, and his performance is great.
So I think now I’m bound to say that he’s a good actor, even a very good actor, by Bollywood standards, and not just an actor. He’s an activist, an
intellectual and even if he does all this by trusting himself and his image more than I appreciate, I can’t really hold it against him. That’s what they all do, only they don’t all have his
talent and his determination. They have a better sense of companionship, on the other hand. Aamir Khan’s Bollywood is a militant Bollywood. He refuses to let people go back home and bask in
the pleasure of complacency. He’s a questioner: what India do you guys want for tomorrow? His recent directing venture, Taare Zameen Par, might well ask this question once
again, being as it is centred on children and education.
Suniel Shetty will remain for me the rescuer of certain boring films such as Umrao Jaan and Main hoon na. Thanks to him, I have found an interest in those poor productions. Watching him cast his back eye and his disdainful sneer has more than often thrilled me, and I want to seize the opportunity to thank him for that. You probably know that his career has not been one of many successes; critics mention that something like 21 out of the 28 or so films in which he’s played a central part have been flops. I daresay it can’t always have been his fault! For here’s my impression about Sunil: he’s certainly capitalised too much on his burly looks, his piercing flashy eyes, his threatening manhood, etc. in short, on nothing that talent deserved. BUT: he’s an intelligent guy, and has felt the cheapness of that sort of appeal, and some of his films show him deploy a real talent, a flair for his characters, which other “villainous” actors don’t bother to express.
In Umrao Jaan, for instance, I
found him really scary, really mean, and really successful in his role. I think he is mesmerizing as Faiz Ali, even if the story does favour him. Sorry to say, but Abhi just wasn’t as convincing:
one wonders why on earth he believes Faiz Ali when this one puts Umrao Jaan’s faithfulness into question. I know there is probably a connection with Ram and Sita’s story, and the tradition in
India is against women in that respect. But even if I found that moment sickening, I couldn’t but marvel at the same time at the spunky energy displayed by Faiz Ali/Suniel Shetty, as opposed to
the lank nonchalance of Sultan Khan/Abhishek Bachchan.
I have elsewhere described my impression of Main hoon na. This Raghavan is for me the real hero of the film (I’ve not been able to appreciate SRK’s so-called ironical stance, to say nothing of Zayed…). I loved Sunil’s husky voice, his menacing presence, his thuggish hairstyle, everything! He probably goes overboard, in fact, there’s too much there, and one half-wonders why he is such a villain. I sincerely think all this shows that Sunil is a dedicated guy, that at some stage he decided to his job really well, to disprove, as it were, the rumours about his complacent acting of his profiteer’s years.
It’s true Sunil is better in baddies’ roles. I remember seeing him “in love” in
Dhadkhan, and feeling: OMG, he’s really pathetic. Well, what can I say, it’s his nature, his talent lies there, with the bad guy. Is it possible that
he’s a victim of the Bollywood habit of categorising actors into set roles, where they can be employed to serve the purpose of conventionally-minded producers and directors? Perhaps, but I really
have the feeling he himself is more comfortable in the roles he’s had, and which he’s probably accepted without much second thoughts.
I haven’t got only praise for Suniel; I feel he’s a businessman right down into his acting, and that means a certain opportunistic
attitude to both directors, spectators, and most of all, himself. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t always asked himself about the purposefulness of such and such a cinematic engagement. Most probably
he’s taken Bollywood for what it is, in fact, at least in part, an industry where so many people are out to make as much money as possible. On the one hand, we can’t blame him for that, but then
cinema is also art, it’s also a world where, if one is committed, one can say things about man and his aspirations. Yes, the cinema, for all its materialism, has a soul, and Sunil had perhaps
forgotten some of that. Or let’s say he’s discovered it a little late. Well, I haven’t seen that many of his films, and perhaps my readers will correct me.
I’ve read news items where he’s said to be fed up with it all, and would now like to take advantage of his wife and two sons, and look after his financial interests. I tend to doubt that sort of decision… He’s bound to feel the need to act again, simply because the sting of popularity is so pleasurable. If indeed he manages to be patient enough and matures his choices, then who knows? He might well surprise us. That’s all we ever ask for!
I was wondering whether I should « do » something for Ash’s birthday… Well, as you can see, I am, in spite of misgivings coming from … various parts.
Looking for something to say, I have watched some videos again, and… there! I thought that if you didn’t know it, you would be pleased to watch her interview with Simi Garewal. It’s not very recent, but it’s very good.
Okay, my main misgiving came from the fear that I would appear too partial, too silly in my interest for Aishwarya Rai. Well look, watching this interview again more than half reconciled me with myself. Even though she’s self-conscious in front of Simi, even though the interviews are probably very prepared, even though she’s calculating her effects, surprise: she emerges as very pleasantly down to earth, at ease, strikingly moving and funny. She has a feminine intelligence, an honesty, a gentleness, a restraint… which I find simply endearing, yes, even remarkable. You watch, and tell me for yourself (there are 6 parts, sorry!) (1)
(1) And it does pay to watch the whole
I am thrilled to say a few words about Madhuri Dixit. And not only because we are in an expectant Madhuri-comes-back period, with Aaja Nachle in the wings. Ever since I saw her in Devdas, where she outshines Ash Rai (well, a few more words on this later), I never think about her without that special feeling: what a woman, what charm, what femininity. She has something of Meryl Streep, a tinge of Monica Bellucci, even of Sophia Loren! (below, with the hat, wouldn't you say?) Or perhaps it’s the other way round: these immortal beautiful faces remind us of Madhuri?! Do you remember Sudhir Mishra’s Dharavi? She is the “Dreamgirl” in that film: well that’s it, part of her is in that realm, detached from reality so to speak, a pure product of cinema.
But no, she’s also a very real kind of person. What strikes me first is the warmth of that face, its glowing warmth. It’s the brown eyes, their womanly presence that is felt when she is pleased (and then it’s rapture) or sombre (and then it’s danger): she’s a woman through and through. If she loves you, she’ll fight for you like a tigress; if she despises you, one look of hers and the world crumbles, her beauty turns to stone, and you have a pillar of hate in front of you. Her expressiveness is total, and yet, you sense so much more behind. There are feelings she will hide, for she is ever a seductress, ever a queen who has to ascertain how much power she has at her disposal.
Young Madhuri was like the froth of bubbles out of an alpine fountain, it was pure song, pure freshness. Or otherwise she was a sensuous fire, full of smoke and sparks. This is how I saw her in Dil, or Prem Granth, for example. More enthralling than that, I don’t know! But what I now feel about her, what I now like about her is a much richer mixture of respect and attention. Everything she’s been through comes into play, those ups and downs of fortune, her marriage far away from home, her affairs with other men… All this composes a picture which is endearing and moving, a picture of life, with this wonderful woman in the middle, full of her successes and of her failures. It seems all this is expressed in Devdas, in her character of Chandramukhi, the object of so many men’s desire, and yet with a heart, a need to love and be loved: somehow this corresponds to her figure as the queen of the 90’s. I have pointed out elsewhere how much the prostitute is a core figure of our civilisational process. It works here too. Chandramukhi defends herself by showing how much criticism levelled at her social status is in fact a criticism which should be directed to society as a whole, for the Whore is nothing more than the embodiment of men’s deeper desires. She is nothing but a projection of men’s nature. And she is in the best position to denounce the hypocrisy of a society which objectifies women. In front of Paro, who walks draped in her righteousness (until she understands something of suffering), Chandramukhi is the eternal woman, she’s Venus and she’s Mona Lisa. She finds love and knows how much love traps you, but she clings to it, because love also frees.
Madhuri Dixit testifies to a phenomenon which is rather frightening: Bollywood’s cannibalism. Bollywood needs a fresh beauty every ten years or so. For instance, there was the reign of Rekha, then Sridevi came along, then Madhuri, then Aishwarya, and the rise of one meant the demise of the other. Today, there is more money, more exposure, more sophistication, more competition, so perhaps it’s a better period, but in their various circles, the ladies are still as dearly bought. Their looks and youthfulness crown them, they shine and reign, but as soon as their light start to fade, and a new star shines brighter or with a different, more appealing lustre, they must suffer their lamp to be put at the back, among the accessories. The industry needs a regular ration of beauty (and sexiness) to feed on, and it’s hard work for talent to disprove this rigorous law. Madhuri has fitted this circle very effectively. She understood how it worked, she took advantage of it (money-wise too), and so today she’s probably satisfied: not all beautiful girls make it for a brief canter at the top!
So what of her “come-back”? It will change nothing, of course. At least, I fear it won’t. I’d like it if Madhuri could continue a career the way male actors do. At least, that’s what happens in Western cinema. I’m afraid mainstream Bollywood is still a victim of the special appeal of beauty and youth, and apart from phenomena such as Amitabh Bachchan, there are practically no older actors or actresses who make it in the leading roles when they are past their prime. Can Madhuri rise again? At 42?
I realise I’ve said very little about her films, her acting, her dancing! That’s what she’s renowned for, on top of her looks. Well, I just need to say that she’s quite good. I have in mind Dil to pagal hai, for instance, a blockbuster which I found extremely shallow, but never mind, she plays Pooja quite convincingly (as does Karisma Kapoor, BTW). In Hum aapke hain koun!, there are glorious moments of comedy and fun which we owe to her lively teasiness. Her dancing is sometimes too stilted for me, but perhaps I’m not the best judge.