There’s a telling scene in ‘The Fame Game’ where Anamika Anand’s husband privately berates her, labelling her a ‘flop actress’ that is almost reminiscent of the lynch mob that Madhuri Dixit was subjected to in the mid-90s.
With her Bollywood career graph plateauing following a string of unsuccessful films such as ‘Yaraana’, ‘Prem Granth’ and ‘Rajkumar, the actress was subjected to ageist comments by several critics, some of whom called her ‘too old’ to be a leading lady.
And then came 1997’s ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’, which swept up the awards season that year, earning Dixit the Best Actress trophy that she in turn dedicated to those very critics who had suggested she pack her bags and leave Bollywood.
Such is the natural grace the Dixit brings to Anamika Anand in such moments that it gets difficult to tell at times where the real actress ends and the reel one takes over in ‘The Fame Game’, the new Netflix series that she spearheads.
Dixit acknowledges that there are certain parallels between the two, but those are perhaps limited to the red carpet moments and the portraits hanging on the wall, while her life is no skeleton waiting to tumble out of a dark closet.
“Somebody used the term Metaverse,” Dixit reveals in a chat with Gulf News a week after ‘The Fame Game’ released on Netflix, while climbing straight into the UAE top 10 viewership charts. “It is a little confusing as they [makers] used some of the imagery from my real life, like the photographs on the wall and created this image for Anamika.”
But the metaverse, as she calls it, isn’t limited to the images alone. There’s another scene in the series where her character breaks into an impromptu jig on ‘Channe Ke Khet Mein’, oft considered one of Dixit’s most iconic tracks from the 1994 film ‘Anjaam’ that was choreographed by the late Saroj Khan.
Dixit simply laughs when you bring up such moments in the series, saying: “I think they did that because they wanted to create this image of me. The show opens showing that Anamika is a huge star. So to create that image of a huge star, they just used my status as a huge star. They use those things just to establish that but after that whatever happens to Anamika is her own story.”
Yet, surely with a career spanning 38 years and countless films in her kitty, there must have been some reality of Dixit that would have seeped into the character of Anamika Anand, perhaps the glamourous outtakes or the fiercely protective mother raising her children away from the public eye.
“I think whatever was written by Sri Rao was very relevant to the story. I mean, nothing was forced or brought into it just for the heck of it,” explains the 54-year-old star. “But yes, even though it was Anamika’s story, while acting, I did bring in some of the stories I had heard and some things that I had experienced into the different scenes I did. But I think everything else that she experiences and goes through in her life are very different from mine. So we had that demarcation, but yes, there are a lot of things I had heard or picked up or believed in that was used for the performance.”
And that performance unspools across eight episodes like a potboiler that would put Bollywood to shame, with a seasoning of an unrequited love affair, a troubled marriage, film industry tropes and a tongue in cheek rhetoric on the trappings of a star in India today, which sometimes takes precedence over the skill of acting itself.
In fact, a particular scene where Anamika roasts a younger star who passes an ageist comment has sparked a viral meme on social media, with the savage reply by her character even prompting filmmaker Karan Johar, whose Dharmatic Entertainment has co-produced the show, to quiz Dixit about the same.
In this particular scene, when a younger star asks for Anamika’s blessings, she responds saying: “You don’t need my blessings really. You young stars these days have PR, stylists, trainers, you have everything. Actually, you don’t even need talent, let alone my blessings.”
Screenshots of that scene have been shared online with many praising the comment made on the younger crop of actors. Yet, Dixit, who excels at being politically correct, can never fathom herself ever saying such a thing in real life. In fact, she even told Johar that she was far too secure in her real life to resort to such statements.
Yes, the series packs in just about every Bollywood cliché there may be, but it somehow works, largely due to Dixit’s stellar performance and some nifty twists and turns that keep the viewers guessing up until the very end.
“We are, of course, very happy with the final product because it was our baby and everybody worked really, really hard on it,” Dixit says, alluding to the production hurdles they endured during the pandemic and the corresponding lockdown in India that saw three days’ worth of shoot completely scrapped before the team moved to the city of Nasik and started from scratch, protected in a bio bubble.
“So, we were shooting in very weird times. But, you know, when we saw the final product and how it had turned out, we all were very happy with it. Of course, there’s always apprehension but the show is trending in so many countries,” she continues.
‘The Fame Game’, which marks Dixit’s debut in a web series, has been touted as a casting coup of sorts. The actress herself revealed that writer Sri Rao and her were initially supposed to collaborate on another project but this show just fell in her lap.
“Sri Rao had the script with him and he came to me, saying, you know, this is what I want to make. And he just gave me a one liner, saying that it’s about a huge star with a perfect family who suddenly goes missing one day,” Dixit reveals, adding that as the show progressed, the course of investigation changes from ‘where is Anamika?’ into ‘who is Anamika?’.
“I quite liked the idea of a thriller and when I heard the script, I thought it was great. And then of course, Netflix got involved, and I thought, they can give it that mounting, that quality and the feel and that’s why I decided to this project.”
Without giving the game away, the series also allows Dixit to dabble in a bit of gray, with her character not as straight-laced as some of her Bollywood roles. Quiz her and she reveals that was perhaps what cinched the role for her, exploring that little bit of negativity.
“I mean, here you are thinking someone is a certain way and then you find out that it’s all gray. And when you go back and see it again, you realise Anamika’s not who she appears. She has shades of insecurities in her that don’t even spare her daughter,” Dixit says.
Having worked in Bollywood of ‘80s and ‘90s, when streaming platforms were a mere twinkle in the eyes of juggernauts such as Netflix, Dixit acknowledges that perhaps 20 years ago she may have never had an opportunity to headline such a show.
“I think initially in my career, women-oriented films used to mean either revenge dramas or being victimsed. Those were the only mandates given that created a very stereotypical kind of woman-oriented films. But I think we’ve come a long way from there,” Dixit says.
The actress continues: “I think in my career, I was very fortunate to get very strong women roles, whether in ‘Beta’, ‘Raja’, ‘Mrityudand’ or ‘Khalnayak’. I think I was fortunate to get roles written that were powerful in their own way. But now I think sensibilities are changing.”
Dixit adds that there was a time when she used to walk onto a set and the only women in the room used to be the actress herself, the hairdressers and deputy actors. “But now, when I walk in, the camera people, the director of photography, directors, costume designers, set designers, are all women, which is amazing to me,” she says.
Does that mean Dixit the actress could find her calling as Dixit the filmmaker someday? Pose the question to the veteran and she didn’t shoot it down. “Well, I’ve already produced two Marathi films, with the second one ready for release, so yes, I have gone behind the cameras so to say. But as a director, who knows? I mean, right now, I’m having a great time being in front of the camera, maybe someday, you know.”
What is ‘The Fame Game’ about?
Anamika Anand (Madhuri Dixit) is a famous Bollywood star who appears to have the perfect family, with doting husband Nikhil More (Sanjay Kapoor) and two teenage children, along with her mother, forming the ideal unit. With a Bollywood comeback of sorts in the works, which reunites her with superstar Mukesh Khanna (Manav Kaul), Anamika suddenly disappears one night and leaves her family and fans in despair. As the police investigates her disappearance, skeletons slowly tumble out of the closet that bring into question everything Anamika stood for.
Don’t miss it!
‘The Fame Game’ is streaming on Neftlix