What could Raj Kumar Santoshi's Lajja, a box-office dud, and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, a commercial humdinger, have in common? Well, nothing really, except the presence in each of a supremely gifted actress who is purportedly on the verge of retirement but still good enough to light up the screen with the sheer power of her immense talent and star appeal.
Lajja came and went without creating much of a ripple, but the magnificent Madhuri Dixit, playing a small-town folk theatre actress who spiritedly but lucklessly fights gender prejudices ingrained in the society she lives in, made a huge splash, overshadowing everything — and everyone — else in the film. No sweat!
The K3G tale is, of course, a trifle different. Despite the cast featuring three towering male superstars — one of the past (Amitabh Bachchan), one of the present (Shah Rukh Khan), and another of the future (Hrithik Roshan) — and the film smashing box-office records in double quick time, it was Kajol who deservedly cornered most of the critical and popular accolades in the role of a bubbly, ebullient, Old Delhi Punjabi girl. It seemed to come pretty naturally to the third-generation actress.
And you thought Madhuri and Kajol were relics of the past.
There is something about the two actresses that that sets them well apart from their present-day rivals — spontaneous sensuality tempered with genuine talent. They sizzle even as they inveigle, they excite the senses even as they stir up emotions. Can Mumbai moviedom do without them?
The happy news is that Mrs Nene isn't contemplating full retirement, not as yet at any rate, but, sadly, the amazing Mrs Devgan, following a recent miscarriage, seems likely to be out of circulation for an extended period. Our fervent appeal: please come back, Mrs Devgan. The industry needs you desperately.
Mumbai showbiz still has its Karisma Kapoor and Tabu, wonderful actresses both, but gone are the divas who could set the screen ablaze with a mere glance, a hint of a come-hither smile, or that natural Madhubala-style allure. Nobody on the bump and grind Bollywood circuit today, including the supposedly hot and happening Kareena Kapoor, is quite in the same league as Madhuri and Kajol.
Consider the actresses who have been playing the game for some time now — Shilpa Shetty, Sonali Bendre, Manisha Koirala, Aishwarya Rai. Or those that have burst on the scene over the past couple of years — Amisha Patel, Kareena, Diya Mirza, Esha Deol. None of them is completely untalented, not by a long chalk, but rarely have they demonstrated the spark that separates a mere beautiful face from a real crowd-puller who can also please the critics as well. Madhuri and Kajol do virtually everytime they are up there on the screen bringing to life millions of fantasies.
We know that Bollywood is a male-dominated industry and it's the Aamir Khans, Sunny Deols, Shah Rukh Khans and Hrithik Roshans who keep the turnstiles in constant motion. We also know that marriage can, and often does, jeopardise the box office prospects of the reigning queens of tinsel town. But could Hindi cinema have been what it is today without the charms and talents of Geeta Bali, Madhubala and Waheeda Rehman?
Madhuri and Kajol are clearly the last of the female megastars still standing in Mumbai and the industry can ill afford to lose their services so abruptly. There surely must be a way of ensuring that the magic continues unabated. Don't go away, Mrs Nene and Mrs Devgan, ke dil abhi bhara nahin!
Published in Hindustan Times