The Dhak Dhak girl still has it all. As Anamika Anand, Madhuri Dixit’s smile lights up the screen as if she never left to get married in real life. You understand why Sanjay Kapoor, who plays her husband Nikhil Anand, and Manav Kaul, who plays superstar Manish Khanna - her once lover, are ready to fight for her attention.
Anamika Anand has been a star who has been working for over 20 years. And now as she works on a romantic film which will be released at the same time as a younger rival’s action movie. We wonder what is going on in her head as she dances on the set. At home, she is surrounded by family: a husband, two grown-up children, a mother, and they live in a very beautiful bungalow with servants catering to their needs.
The bungalow is what most people imagine a movie star's home to be - gigantic portraits of the star, her awards and citations on the wall, a staircase that is polished, separate rooms for her kids, a wardrobe that glitters with her clothes, rows of shoes, neatly made beds… But the house hides the secrets of the people who live within those posh walls. And with every episode, there is the promise of a reveal and yet, fame is a cruel mistress, she plays her cards close to her dark heart.
Directors Karishma Kohli and Bijoy Nambiar tease you with every encounter between man and fame. Sanjay Kapoor does not need to tell you he’s a Nagpur boy who fell in love with the star and married her. You see it and know Anamika certainly deserves better. Her husband is no arm candy, he twists her arm…
Suhasini Mulay is Aai, the mother who reminds us of Bollywood ammas of yesteryear stars, ruling their daughter’s careers with an iron rod covered with kanjeevarams. She sends shivers down your spine simply by telling everyone off, without ever sneering. She’s cold and manipulative, but Anamika respects her mother. And though Aai often pushes her star daughter into a corner, Anamika sometimes gives it back to her.
Anamika’s kids are not just her anchors, they also tie her down to her role as provider. Avi (played by Lakshvir Saran) is struggling with his identity and Anamika worries about him. On the other hand, her daughter Amara or Amu (played by Muskkaan Jaferi) harbours showbiz ambitions, and loves as well as hates her mother in equal measure. Anamika loves them both.
She has a loyal makeup person who helps hide the scars of her personal life before she steps into the arc-lights, takes care of unruly, rabid fans, even arranges for a surprise meeting with the man Anamika has loved in the past (and still does, perhaps)... But is he really as nice as he projects himself to be? Is the rabid fan who will not lose any opportunity to meet Anamika, even get into her home to steal personal belongings (played rather creepily by Gagan Arora) capable of inflicting harm on Anamika?
And yes, the man Anamika had loved in the past, another superstar like herself, Manish Khanna, is not only working on the new romantic film but is also wanting to turn back the clock and be lovers again. Anamika is starved for affection, and she gives in to his charming persistence. And the morning after the big awards function where she is greeted by a thousand photo flashes, she is gone without a trace. She has left her phone and purse. The police are investigating. Rajshri Deshpande plays Shobha Trivedi, the cop in charge of the case of the missing superstar. She doesn’t believe a single word of the happy family narrative that is presented to her.
A part of this tangled web is Shubhangi Latkar, who is simply marvellous as the housekeeper and a kinder version of a mother figure to Anamika. The young lad who acts as Avi’s childhood friend has a small part, but he is so good, you feel bad for the situation he finds himself in.
The beauty of this whodunit is that it ensnares us into believing all the stories about why they could’ve ‘done it’. You suspect a character, and they turn out to be a red herring. And the one you thought was a decent person turns out to be someone who brings tears to Anamika’s expressive eyes. Is stardom so toxic that it ends up hurting her? The show is shot with all the love for the movie business and the locations are terrific. The music both in the background score as well as the songs, the deep reds of the colour palette are just perfect for this show. Kalank may not have done well at the box office, but the movie set and the choreography reminded me of the film.But it is the shot of Madhuri Dixit icing her face as tears threaten to overwhelm her carefully made-up facade, the abuse of her real life just beneath a deft stroke of a concealer will haunt you as it did me. Suddenly one’s ordinary life seems to be blessed. Even though you were hoping that so and so person in Anamika’s life would get their comeuppance, the end reveal is altogether satisfactory. The Fame Game is a visual treat and so mesmerising, you will binge-watch it on Netflix as I did.