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Madhuri beats Amitabh, SRK

March 15, 2011 12:22 IST

Madhuri DixitSenior functionaries of Sony Entertainment Television, the general entertainment channel, are ecstatic. No less than 5.6 per cent of homes with cable and satellite television watched dance reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa on day one.

This was head and shoulders above Kaun Banega Crorepati, anchored by Amitabh Bachchan, which opened with a viewership of 4 per cent on the channel, while Shah Rukh Khan's Zor Ka Jhatka on NDTV Imagine managed just 2.6 per cent viewership, ribald jokes notwithstanding.

The functionaries put down the success of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa to its host, Madhuri Dixit, Bollywood's reigning heroine of the 1990s. What makes them happier is that the channel paid Dixit a fraction of what it paid Bachchan and still managed higher viewership.

For years, there has been an unwritten rule in showbiz that married actresses, especially those with children, don't sell. Dixit, now in her 40s, married a US-based doctor some years ago and bid adieu to the entertainment industry -- but the industry does not seem ready to let go of her so easily. She made her first comeback in 2007 with Yash Raj production Aaja Nachle, which did average business.

In her third coming, Dixit is in demand with filmmakers, TV shows and marketers. "I am glad people still think of me so highly and are willing to work with me," she says.

Hindustan Unilever has signed her for its fabric care brand, Comfort, while Bush Foods has signed her as a global ambassador for its basmati rice, Neesa. She is also the brand ambassador for chef Sanjeev Kapoor's channel, Food Food, a joint-venture between Malaysia-based Astro All Asia Network and Kapoor's Turmeric Vision.

Her business manager, Rakesh Nath, says Dixit still commands a lot of respect in the entertainment industry. "I had a great time doing Jhalak and as far as films are concerned, I have read a lot of scripts but nothing is finalised," says the Denver-based actress.

"What matters to me is the subject and my role," she adds.

But it's an open secret that Dixit has refused a sought-after film with superstar Rajnikanth and also said no to other plum projects.

But what is it about Dixit that has producers and marketers queuing up, almost eight years after she called it quits (her last big release was Devdas in 2002)? "She was the last female superstar Bollywood saw and still has that aura around her," says adman Prasoon Joshi.

Nobody divulges how much Dixit commands for endorsements but it is estimated to be more than what other married or 'senior' actresses receive. She might not be signing films left, right and centre or appearing on magazine covers by the dozen, but she remains as popular as ever.

Aabhas Sharma in New Delhi