Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (“I
Want to Become Madhuri Dixit”, 2003)
Starring: Antra Mali, Rajpal
Yadav, Govind Namdeo, Rita Bhaduri, and Raman Trikha
Music: Amar Mohile
Lyrics: Nitin Raikwar
Producer: Verma Corporation, Entertainment
Director: Chandan Arora
A charming little film, Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon lends
itself to more subtle interpretations than one might initially be inclined
to believe. The narrative, in
it major outlines, has previously been encountered countless number
of times. The village is set against the city; the country
bumpkin against the street-smart city dweller; the innocence of the
countryside against the unremitting hostility of the city; the contained
vision of village dwellers against the boundless ambition of urbanites;
the inherited communities of village life against the self-interested
relationships of the city, and so on and so forth.
Set in the imagined village
of Gajraula, Main Madhuri Dixit
opens with a nautanki scene. The spunky village girl, Chutki (Antara Mali),
induces her friend Raja (Rajpal Yadav), to act the role of a woman when
she finds that one of her dancers is missing.
Some of Madhuri Dixit’s famous dance numbers are emulated. When Raja’s identity is revealed, this becomes
the talk of the town; Chutki herself is chastised by her mother, though
her father is doubtless more tolerant.
Quite undeterred by her mother’s stern reprimands, Chutki finds
herself at the local Hindi film screening where, as has happened often
before, the entire film is not screened.
The audience whistles and yells; the proprietor claims he doesn’t
have the rest of the reels. Then,
all too suddenly, as the crowd seems resigned and ready to disperse,
Chutki dances, so to speak, the rest of the film.
This is quite stunning, insofar as Main
Madhuri Dixit registers the fact that theatre and cinema lie on
one continuum. Cinema’s origins lie in theatre, of course,
and Chutki’s easy movement between the two underscores the malleability
of the cinematic form. Moved
by her own successful, even scintillating, emulation of Madhuri Dixit,
and encouraged by Raja, Chutki begins to believe that she can be like
Madhuri herself. Once the idea of going to Bombay enters into
her head, she cannot shake it; but her sympathetic father, once apprised
of the wild hopes that she harbors, resorts to the time-tested expedient
of having her married. Now perforce
she has to escape the village. But
how? Scarcely aware that Raja is wholly smitten by
her, Chutki at once accepts Raja’s suggestion that, if she were to marry
him, he can somehow persuade his parents that they wish to build a new
life in Bombay. The ruse works: the marriage takes place, and much to the astonishment
of Raja’s father, Raja and Chutki leave for Bombay on the pretext that
they will establish a new business.
In a supremely iconic scene, as they take the overnight train
to Bombay, Chutki takes off her mangalsutra
and hands it over to Raja for safekeeping. In
stripping herself of the mangalsutra, Chutki is disowning her own marriage;
indeed, once they are arrived in Mumbai, Chutki pretends that they are
not married. One begins to suspect that, so long as the deception
is in place, success will elude Chutki.
The mangalsutra, thus,
is not merely iconic of a the state of wifehood; it is also an emblem
of truth and honesty.
innocent villagers begin to be fleeced as soon as they arrive in Bombay.
The taxi driver strips them of something like Rs 900 for a short
taxi ride, and when Raja innocently remonstrates against the taxi driver,
he is told that argumentation will only increase the “waiting charge”
that he will be obliged to pay. Santa
Singh and Banta Singh could have done little better.
Chutki and Raja are, evidently, not apprised of the ways of the
world. When Chutki takes her amateur photos to a film
director, she is greeted with howls of laughter. The particular humiliation that a villager encounters
in the city has its own language, and Main Madhuri Dixit is particularly successful in evoking this humiliation.
A local would-be film hero attempts to charm Chutki, and almost
succeeds. At a photo shoot in
a romantic spot, his close proximity to Chutki, and his less-than-innocent
flirtation, make Raja squirm with discomfort. Whatever Raja’s limitations
in understanding the city, he is not without intuition; indeed, in a
reversal of the familiar stereotyping which renders women into creatures
of intuition, Chutki is shown to be largely clueless about things. Raja is her helpmate, her soul, her companion;
he is, in American parlance, an extraordinarily nurturing, caring man
who puts his wife and her career before everything else, never allowing
himself to be unduly critical of her, always supportive, and always
confident, even at moments of acute failure, in her native ability. As he tells her from time to time, others cannot
recognize the kala (art) within
her; they are unable to penetrate the surface. Told of a director, Ram Gopal Verma, who casts
unknown aspirants to stardom, Chutki and Raja attempt to bring themselves
to his attention. Raja ends up
being offered a role! It is at
this juncture that, at his behest, Chutki refashions herself into a
modern Bombayite. Success in the city demands a price, a price
that requires one to be what one is not.
The pleasures of pedicure and manicure aside, the modern hair
salon marks the decisive break between the city and the village. Chutki’s long hair is shorn, and Raja gulps
as he watches her ponytail dropping on the floor. Discretely he pockets Chutki’s ribboned and
break Chutki must get, this one in the form of an agent (Govind Namdeo)
who appears to be another smooth operator and glib talker, a type that
proliferates in the big city. An assignment for a music video wins Chutki
many raves, and soon Govind gets her a role in a film where, she is
told, she will play the female lead against stars Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh
Bachchan, Dev Anand, and others. But
they are all look alikes, and with great difficulty Govind persuades
her that great careers have modest beginnings.
Thus is the film Roshini completed. Dressed in their best finery, Chutki and Raja
arrive at the film’s opening, only to find that the hall is nearly empty,
its few male occupants engaging in rowdy, mocking, and lecherous observations
about the film’s heroine. Crestfallen,
Chutki and Raja prepare to return to their village.
As Chutki is packing her bags, her eyes fall upon her ponytailed
hair which Raja had saved. At
this moment, one suspects that it dawns on her that Raja is completely
devoted to her; as if to complete the thought, her gaze chances upon
the mangalsutra tucked under a few clothes. When Raja’s eyes turn towards her, he sees
the mangalsutra dangling from
her neck. This moment is not
meant to mark the triumphal return of wifehood, but it does signify
Chutki’s acceptance of her married state and the end of deception.
Now, when all seems lost, success will be hers.
returned to their village, Chutki and Raja are just preparing to get
settled down when Govind Namdeo turns up, persuades her that except
in the cities her film has been a superhit, and that a career lies ahead
of her. Together Chutki and Raja
once again plunge into the brave new world. Though
not a film by Ram Gopal Verma, Main
Madhuri Dixit bears the stamp of Verma Productions, and in some
respects the film hearkens back to the themes of Rangeela. How does an aspiring actress make her way to
the top? What heady mixture of dreams do Bombay and Bollywood feed,
and what intrinsic relationship does cinema bear to the city? Exceedingly modest in its vision and even cinematic
style, Main Madhuri Dixit
Chahti Hoon is nonetheless able to pose some stirring questions.