Considered by many critics to be one of the finest actresses of Indian cinema, Madhuri Dixit, 51, never ceases to surprise her fans. After taking a long break from films to spend time raising her kids, the six-time Filmfare Awards winner has started bagging big roles once again. She recently tickled the funny bones of the audience by playing a boisterous Maharashtrian woman in Total Dhamaal (2019) and now, the evergreen diva is back to ensure that her fans’ hearts miss a few beats after watching her mesmeric performance in Dharma Productions’ latest offering, Kalank.
Touted as one of the biggest releases of 2019, Kalank prides on having some of the biggest stars on its cast. Besides Madhuri, the Karan Johar-produced period drama also stars Sanjay Dutt, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sonakshi Sinha and Aditya Roy Kapur in principal roles. Recently, Eastern Eye correspondent, Mohnish Singh, caught up with Madhuri Dixit at a Mumbai hotel and tried to find more about her character Bahar Begum in Kalank, how is it different from Chandramukhi of Devdas (2002), what was her experience of working with such a huge star cast, and much more. The actress also shared some never-heard-before trivia from her iconic film Hum Aapke Hain Koun! (1995), which completes 25 years in 2019.
First of all, tell us something about your character in Kalank.
The character which I play is called Bahar Begum. Her life has never been a straight line; it has always been a curveball. She is someone who has a lot of angst. She has a lot of regrets in her life. She is someone who holds cards very close to her heart. She is almost like a recluse. She is not everywhere; she is very particular about that. She is a very complicated person. You know, sometimes you make decisions in your life which you do not realize that they do not only affect you, but others around you also. So there are a lot of regrets in her life. She conveys more with her eyes than words. So that is Bahar Begum.
Your look in the film reminds us very much of Chandramukhi from your film Devdas. Did you give any inputs in designing your look in Kalank?
Well, as far as the look of Bahar Begum is concerned, she looks exactly what a courtesan of that era should look like. What else is there to experiment with? She will have to have that flirtatious, coquettish demeanour, heavy costumes and all.
Coming to the character of Chandramukhi, she used to wear her heart on her sleeves. She was in love with Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) in the movie. She abnegates everything for him. So that character was very different. Bahar Begum is a very, very different character. Maybe there is not much difference looks wise – though we have tried to make her look different – the difference will be visible through the character, what she is playing in the film. The way she looks at things is very different.
In Devdas, you wore a 16kg costume, if I am not wrong. Did you have to go through a similar ordeal here as well?
(Laughs) Yeah, of course! You must have seen the song ‘Ghar More Pardesiya’ where I feature alongside Alia. I still wonder how I could even move after wearing that heavy costume. When I wore it for the first time, I thought I would not be able to take a simple turn in that costume let alone filming the whole song. I do not know its exact weight, but it was very, very heavy.
How was it to work with younger actors of the ensemble cast? Your presence must have intimidated them to quite an extent.
Well, I do not know, because I do not think that I am that sort of a person who likes to intimidate. In that sense, I think I am a very outgoing person; I love to meet everyone.
I love Alia and I am also one of her admirers. She is an extremely good actress and very talented. When I did my first scene with her, I remember I had come from the sets of Total Dhamaal (2019). I had just wrapped up the film and from the very next day, I started shooting for Kalank. In Total Dhamaal, I was playing a rowdy character. She was a total Maharashtrian, throwing around lines, being over the top, climbing up the trees and all of that. And suddenly, I had to play Bahar Begum who has tehzeeb, adab and all. So the first day on the sets of Kalank was very rattling for me. I was shooting with Alia and that was our first scene together. I had to tell her that I had come to shoot right after completing Total Dhamaal. However, as we started shooting, things became wonderful. Alia is so natural that after a while she forgot that we were shooting a scene; it felt like we were chatting and talking to each other.
I love to interact with them (young actors) to know what is happening with them, how they are as people. Be it Alia, Varun, Sonakshi or Aditya, they are very professional. I interacted more with Alia than Sonakshi and Aditya because I had more scenes with her. She is always on time. She is very professional. She knows her lines. She wants to do good work.
I remember once there was a twirling shot in ‘Ghar More Pardesiya’. Alia was required to take tree twirls. She was struggling a little bit with it because there were so many things to keep in mind, like camera angle, expressions and all. The choreographer asked her to take two twirls instead of three, but Alia, being the professional that she is, said, “No, you want three twirls. I will have to do three.” I like that attitude in her. I used to have the same attitude when I was working with Sarojji. I always used to go to her and say, “Give me some difficult moves.” Whenever I see Alia, I get reminded of myself (smile).
Do you think your song ‘Tabah Ho Gaye!’ from Kalank would manage to attain the same status as, for example, ‘Ek Do Teen’, Maar Dala’ and ‘Aaja Nachle’?
I do not know. We do whatever we do and people react. So I cannot say how people are going to react to it. But I can tell you our part of the story, because the song comes at an important point in the film. Also, Bahar Begum’s character is not like Chandramukhi, as I said earlier. So we had to specially choreograph the song keeping in mind her own personality, her own character in the movie. She cannot suddenly become something else for a song. So we really racked up our brains and thought how to do it. Of course, with Sarojji around, things become easier. We played more with the eyes and all. It is up to people to decide whether they like it or not. I think we have tried to do our best.
Was there any apprehension about getting into this character?
No, there was no apprehension at all. I think the only thing was that I had a heavy heart, because of the circumstances under which I got this film (referring to veteran actress Sridevi’s untimely demise, who was the original choice for the role of Bahar Begum). It affected me personally than as an actress.
How was it to work with Abhishek Verman?
It was wonderful; he is such a good director. Be it visualization of a particular scene or the way he choreographs a scene, it is very interesting. What I liked best about him is that he knows exactly what performance he wants. So it was very easy to work with him. Having said that, he is very hard to please, so you will have to work really hard (laughs).
You are working with Sanjay Dutt after two decades. How was it?
It was wonderful. I also worked with Anilji after a long time. It has been nineteen years. With Sanju, it has been 21 years, if I am not mistaken. It has been such a long time. It was wonderful. It is always lovely to work with co-stars because since you have worked with them before, there is a kind of comfort on the set. It was a great experience.
One of your iconic films, Hum Aapke Hain Koun! clocks 25 years in 2019. How do you feel?
I just did kind of a tribute to Hum Aapke Hain Koun! on ZEE Cine Awards. We missed Rajkumar Barjatya (the producer of the film) who recently passed away. He was such a great person. We used to call him Raj Babu. I remember I was shooting for Hum Aapke Hain Koun! and lunch was laid. We did not have vanity vans back then, so we used to have our lunch together. I was looking at the food and somebody asked, “Why is there so much oil in it?” When a boy offered me the food, I also said, “I cannot have it; it has a lot of oil.” So the news reached Raj Babu and the entire menu got changed the very next day. The same guy came to me and said, “Raj Babu has said that now the whole food will be cooked in pure ghee, not oil.” So Raj Babu was that kind.
I remember when I did my first film Abodh (1984) with them (Rajshri Productions), I was very young then. I was 16-year-old. They came to know that I loved chocolates. So every day I used to get chocolates on the sets. They remembered and continued it on the sets of Hum Aapke Hain Koun! as well. On the first day of my shoot, I walked in on the set and there were loads of chocolates. I was like, “Oh, my God! They remembered.” So that is how they were. They care for their actors. They look after them. One of the best production houses I have ever worked with.
Released on 17th April, Kalank is running successfully in cinemas worldwide.