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Birthday special: The unconventional roles of Madhuri Dixit - Watch video

The actress, who turns 50 years old today, has delighted audiences with her performances in Ram Lakhan (1989), Beta (1992), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and many such films. But over the years, she also dared to take on some unusual parts which allowed her to grow as a performer. We take a look at some of her impactful films since her debut in Abodh (1984).

Madhuri Dixit in Mrityudand (1997)

Sonal Pandya

Madhuri Dixit was still a teenager when she was cast as the young bride Gauri in Rajshri Productions’ Abodh (1984). The 17-year-old was studying microbiology at Parle College, Mumbai, when she auditioned for the film. Her dancing skills (she had been learning Kathak since she was 3) probably tipped the balance.

Her role as Gauri was an atypical debut. Unlike most actresses in their first film, Madhuri’s character was given a proper arc, where she is allowed to mature and realise her responsibilities after marriage. Cast opposite another newcomer to Hindi cinema, Bengali actor Tapas Paul, there were no major expectations placed on her. But hers is confident performance where she already seemed at ease in front of the camera.

Madhuri in her debut film, Abodh (1984)

However, the film did not make her a household name and she continued acting in films like Awara Baap (1985) and Mohre (1987), where she played a victim of sexual assault. None of her films since her debut became hits. But a chance meeting with filmmaker Subhash Ghai changed the trajectory of her career altogether.

The showman took out a six page advertisement in Screen India magazine promoting Dixit and announced that she was the heroine in next production. But before that film, Ram Lakhan (1989), released, the dance number from Tezaab (1988), ‘Ek Do Teen’, made her an overnight star. She was nominated for a Filmfare Award for Best Actress and everyone now knew who she was.

It’s been that way since then. If you don’t know who Madhuri Dixit is, then chances are you’ve been living under a rock since the 1990s and haven’t listened to any Hindi film songs. Because she, along with Sridevi and Juhi Chawla, was one of the defining actresses of that decade.

She rose to the stature that she was billed higher than her heroes and sometimes even paid more than them. It is said that in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Madhuri Dixit was paid more than her co-star Salman Khan. Can you imagine that scenario occurring today?

While Madhuri was a largely commercial film actress, appearing in successful films like Dil (1990) and Saajan (1991), she also tried to balance it by taking on the occasional unconventional role in films such as Zindagi Ek Juaa (1992) where she played a drug addict.

Acting opposite frequent co-star Anil Kapoor, Madhuri’s character in the film, Juhi, is the aggressor in their relationship and after marriage when they are separated by distance, she naively turns to drugs to substitute her pain and loneliness.

That same year, she aged herself to play a double role as mother and daughter in the film Sangeet (1992). As the young orphan girl Sangeeta, she also took on the challenge of playing a blind girl.

In Anjaam (1994), although obsessive love and stalking was glorified, it was Dixit’s character Shivani who, after suffering tragedy upon tragedy, decides to stop being the victim. She makes it her personal vendetta to avenge the losses in her life.

Towards the end of the decade, when her films were not as successful, she bounced back with Mrityudand (1997) and Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), where she was once again seen as the ideal woman. In Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand (1997), she played Ketaki, a village woman who fights against atrocities towards women from the men in power, including her own husband.

And with Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Madhuri Dixit won her fourth and final Filmfare award for best actress. She still remains the highest nominated actress with 14 nods under her belt. In 1999, she married Dr Shriram Nene, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and relocated to America. But even after her marriage, she continued working for awhile.

Madhuri Dixit in Pukar (2000)

For Rajkumar Santoshi’s Pukar (2000), along with the dazzling dance number (‘Kay Sera Sera’), she played a character, Anjali, whose jealously forces her to briefly cross over to the dark side. Also that year, she appeared as several characters in MF Hussain’s Gaja Gamini (2000).

The film was seen as an ode to Dixit, who was a long-time muse to the legendary painter, and its concept and execution may have escaped the notice of audiences. But on her official website, Madhuri wrote: The film (Gaja Gamini) was shot in a very artistic way and since its conception itself it was not meant to be a commercial film. The experience was wonderful because the actors had complete freedom and space to display their potential.

With MF Hussain on the sets of Gaja Gamini (2000)

Before she took a long break from Hindi cinema, she appeared in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002) with Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Playing Chandramukhi in the third Hindi remake of the famous Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay novel, she reminded audiences why she was the reigning queen of Hindi cinema, even when pitted against a younger star.  

Five years later, she returned with Aaja Nachle (2007), a film designed to show off her dancing skills, but the film underperformed and it was another seven years before she had a chance to land another meaty role with Dedh Ishqiya and Gulaab Gang in early 2014. The part in Dedh Ishqiya (a sequel to 2010’s Ishqiya) was a refreshing choice.

Madhuri played Begum Para, a worldly widow who holds a poetry contest to decide upon her next husband. Her character is shown to be above it all, including the scheming men who think they know what she wants and needs.

Madhuri Dixit in Dedh Ishqiya (2014)

But Madhuri Dixit has not been seen on the big screen since. After a 30-year career in cinema, it’s a shame that she has had to turn her attention to television (hosting dance reality shows) and developing an online dance academy called ‘Dance with Madhuri’.

Watch our video below of Madhuri Dixit's unusual roles:

Video edited by Ankit Tripathi