The stage is set. Mild warm lights and soft music makes us eagerly await the arrival of the arch rivals of yesteryears. We wonder if we will get to see the long talked about hostility between the two finally emerge on the screen. Will they confront each other or will they converse in stony cold voices? We anticipate that the interview conducted by Karan Johar on his popular show Kofee with Karan with the two guests Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit Nene might give more insight.
Juhi on show before arrival of Madhuri
Karan and Juhi set the ball rolling as the lights brighten and the actress’ bubbly nature makes us get involved in the engaging question answer session. She is forthcoming and uses her hand gestures generously and appropriately. We can make out she is a very visual person when she makes a little window drawing in the air when vocalizing how her little mistakes could have been a window of opportunity for a rival. Do these gestures decrease in the presence of Madhuri, a signal of nervousness to meet her? We will find out as the show progresses. We do notice that Juhi is sitting on the sofa at an angle from where she expects Madhuri to be seated. She is expecting her co-star to appear at any time and is already receptive to her presence.
We are relieved by the striking absence of overly preening gestures that most actresses keep giving while on the screen, totally conscious of themselves and how the audience might be judging them for their beauty. Juhi looks to have matured with age and so is not conscious about her outward appearance. We sense a warm genuineness in her answers as she accepts her weaknesses in her glory days and talks about things she could have done better. There are no seemingly contradictory body gestures which could make us doubt how much she believes in what she is saying. These observations help us start building an opinion that perhaps Juhi’s hostility of yesteryears would have mellowed with years passed by.
Karan broaches upon the absence of female friends for the star actress and we see Juhi give a tiny comforting gesture with her thumb to her intertwined fingers which have taken on a locked, slightly defensive position. Juhi unconsciously takes on more personal space by pushing out her elbows momentarily, saying she was always cordial to her colleagues. She might just be recalling the emotions about her past where she felt intrusion of personal territory in presence of competitor actresses and that is why this brief gesture. In fact, we see this gesture repeated a few more times (with lesser intensity) while Karan is confronting her with the question of her rivalry with Madhuri. This particular question makes the eloquent Juhi starts fumbling for words, gesturing around wildly, almost as if she was scanning for the right words to say. We do not miss out on the decrease in eye contact while answering this. At that time there indeed was hostility between the two. This Juhi’s non verbals confirm for us but whether the hostility is continuing today is what we are waiting to find out once the Dhak Dhak girl comes on the couch.
Juhi and Madhuri
Madhuri finally arrives. We watch with bated breath for the moment of confrontation. Do we sense her take on more space while greeting Juhi than Karan? When she is seated, Madhuri holds onto her right hand with the left one, which is normally a self comforting gesture. Here she has the convenient excuse of holding onto the end of her saree. But she raises her right hand in the conversation that follows and yet this now uncomfortable gesture is not unlocked. Ah! In a wider camera shot, we catch her sitting directly facing Karan, not in a triangular position, which would have involved Juhi in the conversation. She looks at Juhi only with a tilt of the head, not the body. Is this open hostility or just nervousness of a first time meeting in public eyes?
Come on Madhuri, you can tilt a little to look at your co-star
Some formal questions are asked and answered. So have you two discussed your experiences of working with SRK, asks Karan. We are all eyes and ears now as this will reveal the level of interaction between the two. Madhuri takes on a tight lipped expression and looks straight on, avoiding eye contact with either of them. Juhi is quick to admit that they have never really conversed before having met on the set of the new upcoming movie Gulaab Gang. And there we see two looking at the illustrating hands instead of at each other.
Why is Madhuri seeming more uptight when she smiles? Isn’t her smile normally rather sweet and charismatic, atleast from what we remember of the past movies? Here we need to remember that there is a possibility of muscular tension when botox injections are taken by movie stars to appear younger. This could result in a less wide smile. Whether this is indeed the case for Madhuri needs to be confirmed.
We heave our breath in relief once the tough confrontational questions are out of the way. The two actresses start warming up to each other when they are asked professional opinions about the movie industry. They feel like a team then and there is much more eye contact between them. Thank God Madhuri has unlocked her visually disturbing self comforting gesture. In fact, she takes on gestures of a more involved participant, showing evaluation gestures (hand under chin), illustrators (using both hands to highlight points) and a lot more laughter (normally sign of non hostility or submissiveness).
So do they talk to each other on the sets of Gulaab Gang is the killer question. Juhi explains about the ice breaking round that the director arranged for the two of them. We get the same tight lipped expression from Madhuri when Juhi is talking. When Juhi confess why she didn’t want to do a movie with her earlier, we catch Madhuri shifting back on the sofa, finally allowing Juhi into her conversational triangle. One brownie point to Madhuri for opening up more on the talk show. She is seen nodding while listening, again a sign of involvement in the discussion.
Madhuri shifting back to involve Juhi into the conversation
There is one incident where there is again a spike in body language display. They are discussing about reading gossip on current movie stars. Juhi is surprised (raised eyebrows and a dropped jaw) that Madhuri says she is zero on this front. Juhi touches Madhuri’s elbow (a neutral and “safe” area of a person to touch without offending the person) but forgets to complete her sentence saying she doesn’t know anyone who can be as unaware as.. Why does she not take Madhuri’s name? In fact throughout the show, we observe them addressing each other as “she” and “her”. This is “distancing language” and if people are indeed on a personal level, they would not talk in third person voice in presence of each other.
The show ends but we are left hunting for signs of good rapport or friendliness between the two co-stars. (To see how effective good rapport can be, read how Nargis and Freida display amazing mirroring on the same show)
To conclude, whatever little peeping this show allows us into the personal comfort level of Juhi and Madhuri with each other, we observe that they have matured with age but only respect each other as working colleagues. There is no visible open hostility but the relation is still on a very formal and cordial tone. Whether this works in the director’s favor or against is what we wait to find out when Gulaab Gang releases shortly.