(“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 One
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.
The 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 marooned hair.
A 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.
Having 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 Banna Chahti Hoon is nonetheless able to pose some stirring questions.