It is perfectly accurate to call Bucket List Madhuri Dixit’s first film in Marathi. Just don’t describe the May 27 release as Dixit’s return to the screen. After all, she has been away from it only since 2014. “I have been hearing about making a comeback for so many years now,” joked the actress, luminous in a cream chikan sari embroidered with silver sequins. “Aamir Khan does a film once every three years, after all. I don’t deal with it – I am coming back and so be it.”

Directed by Tejas Deoskar, Bucket List revolves around Madhura Sane, who gets a new lease of life after a heart transplant. She tracks down her donor, Sai, and decides to fulfil the wishes on Sai’s list as a sort of return gift. In the process of learning to drive a motorbike and getting a selfie clicked with Ranbir Kapoor, Madhura discovers herself.

Dixit has played tough and resourceful women fighting their way out of corners many times over her career. As early as Tezaab, her breakthrough film in 1988 after a series of flops, her character Mohini displays courage and persistence in resisting her rapacious father. In films such as Anjaam (1994) and Mrityudand (1997), Dixit plays women on the rampage for justice.

“In some of the roles like Mrityudand, the character is visibly strong, and comes from a background that makes her strong,” Dixit observed. “In Anjaam, everything is shocking for the character.”

Madhura Sane too taps into deep reserves of fortitude in trying to fulfil Sai’s dreams on her behalf. “Madhura is also a strong character, but it is very understated – she is not used to this,” Dixit explained. “She is muted and yet she holds her ground, and that is her strength – she holds her ground without being offensive to anyone. She wants to hold onto the things she is doing. You don’t have to be in your face to be strong.”

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Bucket List.

In Bucket List, Dixit is finally addressing her Marathi heritage. The movie is the first of at least three films in which she was feature over the next few months. There is Indra Kumar’s Total Dhamaal, in which the 51-year-old movie star will be reunited with her frequent co-star Anil Kapoor, and Abhishek Varman’s multi-starrer Kalank, whose cast includes Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sonakshi Sinha and Sanjay Dutt. “Bucket List is a quirky slice of life film, Total Dhamaal is a bonkers comedy, and Kalank is a period film – that is all I can say about these roles right now,” she said.

Ajay Devgn, Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor on the sets of Total Dhamaal.
Ajay Devgn, Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor on the sets of Total Dhamaal.

When Tejas Deoskar approached Dixit with Bucket List, she was attracted to the concept of “a woman’s journey to self realisation”. Dixit explained, “I thought it was such a relatable thing. I have seen many working women who gets lost in their own world, and forget who they are while doing stuff for everyone else. There is never a me in the equation. This journey of how a woman discovers herself is what grabbed me.”

Bucket List was a half-formed idea when Dixit was approached to play the part. “Then there was a semi-narration of sorts and I said, go back and work on it and come back with a full script.” The movie also stars Renuka Shahane and Sumeet Raghavan.

Will Dixit also shake a leg in the film, given her enviable dancing skills? “Well, it’s an inevitable question, but it is a part of who I am, and you will have to watch the film to find out.”

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Ghagra, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013).

After ruling Hindi films between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, Dixit stepped back from acting in 2002. In 1999, she had married Sriram Nene, a doctor from Denver, and she emigrated to the US. She played the part of a housewife and a mother for over a decade before returning to Mumbai with her family in 2012. But Dixit maintained her ties with India throughout. In 2007, she made her screen comeback in the dance-themed Aaja Nachle, playing a choreographer who revives a theatre in her hometown by staging a production of Laila Majnu. In Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya (2014), she plays a confidence trickster who uses her beauty and grace to mount an elaborate charade revolving around a lucrative inheritance. In Soumik Sen’s Gulaab Gang (2014), loosely based on the Gulabi Gang vigilante group, Dixit plays the leader of a group of activists.

Dixit has also been a judge on talent hunt shows and briefly ran a dance training website. The typical Bollywood movie has undergone a sea change in the years that she has been away from the screen, and she is now only interested in roles that she hasn’t played before. “It should be something that attracts me, and wants to make me spend my energy and time,” she said.

Filmmaking is different from since when she made her debut in Abodh in 1984. “It would have been more difficult if I were to come into films now,” Dixit observed. “These days, you get bound scripts, and everything is much more organised. Everything is worked out – what your hair and make-up are going to like, for instance. Everything is now digital, and there is no camera whirring in your ears all the time when you are saying your lines. And there are other comforts we didn’t have before, like vanity vans. I remember shooting in the sun. We had to work like that. It is much more comfortable now than when I started out. It is very easy to slip into this kind of situation – and much easier to get used to it too.”

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Dedh Ishqiya (2014).

What hasn’t changed, though, is the effort to deliver a good performance. “It was spontaneous even back then – we made good films then, and we are making good films now,” Dixit said. The process of making a film is still magical enough for her to don the grease paint every now and then. “The best part of filmmaking is still the moment when I come in front of the camera, but I also now enjoy what is happening behind the scenes,” she said. “Because of my experience, I can talk about and exchange ideas, but of course, being in front of the camera is the main attraction.”