The Indian actress Madhuri Dixit, for years one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, was used to the adoration of fans for her performances in dazzling musicals, romantic comedies and family dramas.
But when the pandemic shut down the world, and the give-and-take that normally occurs between the famous and their fans waned, Dixit says she realized how one-sided that relationship often had been.
“That’s why I made this album, called ‘Film Star,'” because it tells you the backstories of being a film star,” Dixit says via video call from her home in Mumbai, which also serves as home to the Hindi-language film industry known as Bollywood.
“For me, fans are a big part of that, because without your fans you’re nothing,” she says. “And I have always found that with the fans, it’s always a one-way street, where the fans are telling you how much they love you, and how much they adore you.
“I thought it’s time for me to say how I feel, and so that’s why the song was written, keeping the fans in mind, and my feelings about the fans,” Dixit says.
Her new single, “Tu Hai Mera,” which Dixit explains means “You Are Mine,” dropped in May as a musical thank you to the millions of fans who have followed her career on screen for decades.
It arrives just a few months after the Netflix series “The Fame Game” became a crossover hit on the streaming network and introduced her to audiences outside the world of Indian cinema around the world.
The album isn’t out yet, though an earlier single, “Candle,” written to honor front-line pandemic workers as the world’s “candles of hope,” was released during the pandemic lockdown, and tallied 1 billion views in its first two weeks.
“These past two years have not been very good for everyone,” Dixit says, continuing her explanation of how the new song was created. “I thought that since we are now kind of coming out of it, and we’re emerging, this would be a great way to tell them that I missed them all these two years that I couldn’t meet them or have contact with them .
” ‘Tu hai mera’ and ‘I love you guys,’ that’s what I intended to say.”
From movies to music
Since her Bollywood debut in 1984, Dixit has consistently been one of the biggest stars of Indian cinema. She’s won six Filmfare Awards, a rough equivalent to the Academy Awards.
Several of her films have been the box office champions for the years in which they were released, and in some years Dixit was the highest-paid actress in Bollywood.
Yet while her acting and dancing on screen have long been acclaimed, she’d never released an album of her own music until now.
“In Bollywood movies, we sing, we act, we dance, we do everything,” says Dixit, 55. “Of course, we don’t sing in our own voices, but I have sung a little bit for Hindi films.”
Her mother was a classical Hindustani vocalist, she says, and Dixit was trained in the Indian dance classical dance style known as Kathak.
“I thought that as an artist I have explored my dancing, my acting, but I also wanted to explore music,” Dixit says. “Because it has been such an integral part.”
Even so, she acknowledges some uncertainty about how her music would be received.
“You’re putting yourself out there for different kinds of reactions,” Dixit says. “You have to do something that keeps inspiring people.
“I sing because I love music,” she says. “Why should I think that I should not be doing this because people are not expecting it? I’m an actress. That’s all I should do?
“You should explore your talents, and everybody should do that. I think it’s an inspiration for others to do the same.”
Netflix and ‘Fame’
In “The Fame Game,” Dixit plays Anamika Anand, a Bollywood star with characteristics similar to Dixit’s own.
Indian American show creator Sri Rao has worked more in Hollywood than Bollywood, but he was well aware of Dixit’s career when he approached her about the part, she says.
“He came to me with this subject, where it’s the story about a very, very famous actress who kind of disappears all of the sudden one day and nobody knows what happened,” Dixit says. “And all the skeletons start falling out of the closet.
“Where everybody thought or perceived her life to be perfect, with perfect kids and perfect husband, then one by one, everything starts going awry and people realize, ‘Oh my God, life was not what it seemed to be.'”
Part of its appeal to her stemmed from the way in which serious issues were mixed into the binge-worthy mystery of the narrative.
“We talked about sexuality, we talked about mental illness, we talked about ageism and sexism in (the film) industry,” Dixit says. “All these emotions were very properly placed, came from a place of responsibility and sincerity.
“So it kind of caught my attention and I thought, ‘Yes, this is something that everybody goes through'” she says. “All artists go through this in their life, and I would love to work on this project.”
She came away from the experience of making a streaming series impressed by that format’s ability both to tell stories based on the lives of strong women characters and to do so in depth and detail.
“There’s so many women-oriented series coming out which are amazing,” Dixit says. “Which don’t put women in stereotypical kind of roles. They are different people. They are flawed, they’re strong, they’re human.
“I think (streaming) has given women a lot of roles and characters that they can play at any age,” she says. “I think it’s a great time for women in cinema.”
Future and past
Dixit’s most recent project is “Maja Ma,” a dramedy set to arrive on Amazon’s Prime Video later this year. Until then, many of her previous projects are available, and she offered a few tips on how to explore them.
“There are a lot of fun movies on Netflix,” Dixit says. “There are some on Hotstar (an Indian streamer); there are some on Prime. And they could go to IMDB and find out which other movies I’ve done.
“But I can pick a few names here like ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun ..!’ which is one of the biggest hits of all time,” she says. “There’s ‘Devdas,’ which was also premiered at Cannes. There is ‘Pukar,’ there is ‘Raja,’ ‘Beta,’ ‘Dil.’ All these movies, and there are more.”
“The Fame Game” made the Top 10 on Netflix in 15 or more countries around the world, Dixit says, unheard of for a Hindi-language TV series.
“It was in the Top 10 in America, it was in Top 10 in Australia, which was amazing,” she says. “I think it was received very well because it was, like I said, from a place of realness. Also, the mystery of it drew people into this world.”
Dixit says she’s hopeful to make similar shows in the future, or maybe revisit this one first.
“I mean, we might get a season two,” she says, smiling broadly at the thought.