Four hip shakes and a muse called Madhuri

NOTEBOOK: The obsession of toweringly eccentric Indian artist M F Husain with the `oomph queen' of Bollywood has been captured on film

I know Maqbool Fida Husain well enough to know that the best time to raise him on the phone is at 8 o'clock in the morning. Sure enough, India's most famous living painter was wide awake and full of fizz when I called him early on Friday, and sounding amazingly youthful for a man who recently cele- brated his 84th birthday.

Nor did he sound as if he had just been bereaved, as if the light had gone out of his life or as if his reason for living had suddenly been removed. Yet those are the terms in which, rather sadly, sotto voce, Mr Husain is being discussed in Delhi and Bombay this week. And all on account of a woman called Madhuri.

Madhuri Dixit has got married: secretly, in a family ceremony in Los Angeles on 17 October, to a non-resident Indian doctor called Shriram Nene. The news has gone around the world now: Bollywood's "oomph queen", the sweetest and most wholesome sex symbol of the 1990s and perhaps the only film actress of her generation to match her male co-stars in popularity and staying power, has, at 33, taken the Indian actress's traditional way out.

In keeping with her docile, middle-class persona, the marriage was arranged, the lucky guy being, like her, a Maharashtrian Brahmin (born in London), with a complementary horoscope.

So far so tragic for Madhuri's hundreds of millions of subcontinental fans; as the Times of India put it in an editorial, "at least half of India must surely have greeted the news ... with disbelief, dismay and ... despondency". But Maqbool Husain has particular reason to lament.

M F Husain (as Indians know him) is a figure of towering eccentricity on the Indian scene. He started as a painter of those fabulous film hoardings for which India was once famous - now sadly replaced in most cities by printed posters. He went on to become a celebrated figurative painter and dedicated Bohemian: always barefoot, walking with a slender cane which proves on examination to be a very long paintbrush.

Bohemianism extends to his subject matter. Despite his Muslim background, he rejoices in painting Hindu gods and goddesses with nothing on, to the fury of fanatics in both Hindu and Muslim communities. Within the past two years his studio has been trashed by Hindu nationalist thugs and his life has been threatened. Last year Delhi's Hindu nationalist BJP government started criminal proceedings against him - an unprecedented attack on a popular and highly esteemed artist.

Mr Husain tends to shrug off such difficulties. In any case, he has other fish to fry. In the past few years he has developed what it is fair to call an obsession with Madhuri Dixit. He saw her 1994 hit film, Hum Aapke Hain Koun (the biggest-grossing Hindi film ever) 74 times. Of one particular dance sequence in the film he speaks of "the four steps" - four Madhuri hip shakes - that changed his life.

Declaring her the essence of Indian womanhood, he resolved to devote the rest of his life to painting her. And that's what he has done: in sketch after sketch, canvas after canvas, striving to capture the ambiguities of the star: buxom, fresh-faced, sensual, winsome, seductive, virginal...

The culmination to date of this grand obsession is a feature film, the first Mr Husain has ever directed, which stars and revolves around Madhuri Dixit. Called Gaja Gamini, it is officially described thus: "A kaleidoscopic journey through the palette of human emotions and the aesthetics of feminine beauty as expressed by characters from Indian art, history, music and poetry."

Gaja Gamini was supposed to premiere this month at the London Film Festival, where it was entered in the experimental section. But it has been pulled from screening. The official reason is that post-production work has not been finished; that's Mr Husain's explanation too. But unattributed Bollywood insiders are saying that that is merely window-dressing. The real reason, they say, is because Madhuri has got married. And now it may never be released.

"Bombay film distributors and financiers vanish as soon as they hear the leading lady is a married woman," one said. "In Bollywood, a heroine's career ends the day she gets married." Mr Husain denies the suggestion vehemently. "It's nothing at all to do with Madhuri's marriage," he told me. "Post-production work has held things up. We'll be showing the film in London first, some time in January, then later at Cannes."

If and when it arrives, the film promises to be quite unlike anything that has ever emerged from Bombay before. It will either be the most incoherent piece of lunacy ever to escape from a can or mesmerisingly beautiful; perhaps both.

The sets are made of papier mache and look it. The characters include Leonardo da Vinci, various figures from mythology, and a woman called Monica Mathur, inspired by La Lewinsky. Monica is played by Madhuri, who also takes the parts of a blind singer and the title role, the "essence of Indian womanhood". It's fair to assume there will be a whole lot of hip-shaking going on. As well as the film itself there will be the film of the film, some kind of installation, an exhibition of specially executed paintings. "It will stretch over three days," Mr Husain explains, "like an extended performance."

As for Madhuri's marriage, Mr Husain claims to be enthusiastic. "She's met the right man. It's tremendous! She's such a lucky girl. It's very difficult for a superstar to find a genuine person. But she's kept herself perfect with such dignity through many years in the movie business, she's so steeped in Indian culture and values - the way she has combined both is remarkable... She is the perfect metaphor for Indian womanhood. This is not the end of my work on Madhuri Dixit."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

£34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future