There is a moment in the recently-released web show The Fame Game, when veteran superstar Anamika Anand feels awkward as the upcoming star Jaslyn calls her “an inspiration” and seeks her blessing. Taking a jibe at the paraphernalia that surrounds a celebrity today, Anamika tells Jaslyn that with an army of PRs, trainers and stylists at work, an actor today “doesn’t need talent”, let alone her blessing, to succeed. They, however, create a perfect photo-op for the paparazzi with Anamika’s hand placed on Jaslyn’s head.
As Anamika, Madhuri Dixit — one of India’s most successful and charismatic actors — lends her expertise, experience and charm to add a fascinating layer to the suspense drama that’s set in the world of Hindi cinema. The Fame Game, now streaming on Netflix, gives a glimpse of the showy and, at times, shadowy world of showbiz. Integral to its narrative is the casting of Dixit.
Writer and showrunner of The Fame Game, New York-based Sri Rao says, “Even before I zeroed in on the story, I wanted to create an international series that would do justice to Madhuri’s talent. I wanted it to be similar to the international series that feature other great actresses of our generation such as Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. It had to be a character with multiple shades and a captivating arc.” Dixit loved the story about the disappearance of a prominent star and following that, how secrets tumble out. This unveils another aspect of stardom, far from the glittering success and well-publicised happy family portraits.
The 54-year-old star, who dominated showbiz in the ’90s with her stellar performances and a string of successful movies such as Saajan (1991), Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994) and Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), brings her astute understanding of the Hindi-film world to the show. “I have lived in this space for so long. Over the years, I have become aware of different experiences people have had. That has helped me understand my character and her journey,” says the actor, who even made a few key suggestions about how Anamika would conduct herself. She appreciates the fact that several relevant social comments and nuances have been woven into the script. “The viewers are privy to different issues that the show touches upon, including gender and equality,” says the actor, who debuted in Abodh (1984) and shot to fame with Tezaab (1988).
One the key suggestions made by Dixit was that her character should have a warm and intimate connection with her screen children. Rao admits to be inspired by the strong bond Dixit shares with her sons, Arin and Ryan, which reflects in the protagonist’s life, as well. “Madhuri came across as a mother first and foremost. She is, what in America is called, a soccer mom. Her children come first, before anything else,” says Rao, who wrote the script for Baar Baar Dekho (2016). The actor plans her schedule in such a way that she gets maximum time with her children. “Now that one of my sons (Arin) has gone to college (in the US) and the other will leave soon, I divide my time between home and work. I love spending time with my sons, but I love my work, too,” says Dixit, who received the Padma Shri in 2008. She married US-based surgeon Shriram Nene in 1999 and had shifted to Denver for some years.
The show takes a dig at the casual use of the term “comeback”. At different stages of her career, a new project by Dixit has been hailed as her comeback vehicle. “Even when I did a movie after a gap of a year or two, it was reported that I was making a comeback. How many times am I going to ‘come back’? In fact, I never left the industry. After I got married, I acted in Devdas (2002). I completed Pukar (2000) and Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam (2001) after my marriage. However, when I had my sons, I took a few years off. But a hero does that anyway. There are times Aamir Khan’s film doesn’t release for two-three years. But no one says he made a comeback,” says the actor, famous for her smile and adds, “I was overjoyed when I saw that line about comeback in the script.”
The actor relocated to Mumbai in 2011. Since then, Dixit has appeared in several talent shows on television as a celebrity judge, acted in movies such as Dedh Ishqiya (2014) and Kalank (2019), and has turned a producer.
In an industry known for its skewed gender practices, the show tries to do some wishful course correction. In one scene, Dixit’s character, after being made to wait on the sets by her co-star Manish Khanna (played by Manav Kaul), tells him that they are both equals. When asked about this, Dixit says, “Times are changing and actors are more professional today. However, so many times in the past, I was kept waiting as actors walked in late. I really relished saying those lines (to a male character).”
She is happy that the work environment has improved remarkably today. “We have worked at a time where film studios didn’t have basic clean rooms. There were no vanity vans. Since there were no bathrooms (on outdoor locations), we had to go to nearby forests. If it rained, then we had to sit in our cars,” she recalls.
Previously, one of the major issues the actors faced during a film’s production was maintaining the continuity of their characters. “At times, there used to be a gap of six months between the shooting schedules of a film. When we resumed shooting, we did not know where the earrings or costumes were. That apart, we used to do two-three shifts in a day. I was playing one character in the morning and a different one in the evening. Next day, I was somebody else. Those were crazy times,” says the actor. She is relieved that an actor today works on one project at a time and everything is well organised. “There were only a few production companies, such as Yash Raj Films, who had bound scripts. We didn’t know the dialogues beforehand as the writer used to write them on the sets. Today, everything is planned — from stylist and make-up to publicity.”
Rao calls the suspenseful family drama The Fame Game his version of life of a popular Hindi film star. “It’s my love letter to Madhuri and India. Like any NRI kid, I have grown up watching Hindi movies,” he says. Keeping Dixit in mind as the lead actor, he created Anamika, who is both empowered and vulnerable. “Anamika is a working mother, a successful artiste, who is balancing many different responsibilities; I made the world revolve around her. I show how she responds to misogyny as well as other personal and professional issues,” says the writer, who is a second-generation American.
For Dixit, stardom is a by-product of what she is passionate about — acting and dancing. It is her passion coupled with perseverance that made her one of the most sought-after stars. However, Dixit is acutely aware of the perils of stardom. She says: “If you take yourself too seriously, it’s dangerous.” It’s, perhaps, her rootedness that has sustained her in the cut-throat world of showbiz for over three decades.