MAIN MADHURI DIXIT BANNA CHAHTI HOON! (2003, d. Chandan Arora)
Erm, no, not me. Well, if the gender change wouldn’t be such a stumbling block then perhaps. Aspiring to be Madhuri Dixit, Bollywood’s queen of the 90s, is actually her number one fan Chutki - the lead character in this charming comedy drama that is ironically better than most of Ms Dixit’s movies. Chutki (Antara Mali) is a fun-loving and high-spirited young village girl who amuses her friends and neighbours with her dead-on impressions of her favourite actress. Singing and dancing her days away, she dreams of becoming the kind of beloved screen heroine that her idol is. Her aspirations are halted though after her distinctly unamused mother announces plans to marry her off in order to get her head out of the clouds. Chutki is heartbroken, but help is at hand in the form of her best friend and secret admirer - the dim yet adorable Raja (Rajpal Yadav), who offers to marry her so that they may both run off to Bombay for Chutki to live out her dreams. However, after the young newly-weds arrive in India’s movie capital, Chutki discovers the path to Bollywood stardom is not all plain-sailing in the harsh realities of Bombay’s city life.
Stargazing: Rajpal Yadav and Antara Mali in MMDBCH
This criminally overlooked and undervalued gem of a film employs a plot device all-too familiar to Western film-making, yet rather sparingly used in Indian pictures - the ‘fish out of water’ scenario. This makes Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon! particularly accessible to newcomers of Bollywood, even those who are entirely unfamiliar with the work of Madhuri Dixit. Those who are though should doubtless get a kick out of seeing the various nods and tributes to her throughout, all of which are enacted to perfection by leading actress (and real-life Mads aficionado) Antara Mali. Mali was one of the more promising newcomers of Hindi cinema in recent years - A product of the Ram Gopal Varma production camp (which also shot Urmila Matondkar to fame), she gave memorable performances in 2002’s thriller Road, the 2003 horror Darna Mana Hai and most notably 2004’s moody drama Naach, opposite Abhishek Bachchan. Perhaps prematurely, she then took control of her own career in 2005 resulting in her disastrous directorial debut Mr Yaa Miss - a near-scene for scene copy of the 1991 Hollywood farce Switch. Mali hasn’t been seen since.
Antara as Chutki as Madhuri in MMDBCH (left) and the real Mads in 1990’s Sailaab (right)
Nonetheless, MMDBCH showcases Antara at her best and most joyful and special mention must also go to her co-star, the diminutive Rajpal Yadav. Almost always cast in the role of a slapstick comedy supporting character due to his appearance, Yadav gains plenty of opportunity to subtly flex his comic muscles here, but is for the most part given dramatic material which he handles equally as expertly. His character of Raja as the rather sad and forlorn fusspot torn between his unrequited love for Chutki and her dreams of stardom is well-written and wonderful to watch. Sadly though, the combined efforts of the talented actors and writer/director Chandan Arora did not bear fruit at either the Indian box office or from the critics, who awarded the film only mildly positive reviews. This never ceases to amaze me - to me, MMDBCH is a classic example of a feel-good, rags-to-riches adventure with no barriers of culture clashes or arty pretensions to alienate any viewers. So who knows why it didn’t click with the public? Perhaps it was the lack of star power, the occasionally dark narrative, the stinging satiric digs at some of Bollywood’s foibles or even some perceived plot hangover from 1995’s similarly-themed Rangeela. But whatever the reason, I would still certainly give it a high recommendation - Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon! is one fun and touching little jaunt.
Aping Madhuri again in MMDBCH (left) and the genuine article in 1996’s Rajkumar (right)
The available DVD of MMDBCH from Venus Entertainment offers very well-translated English subtitles, superb 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, but below-average (though watchable) anamorphic video quality.