What The Fame Game showcases is the depth and marvels of Madhuri as she switches between star and human, mother and woman, notes Sukanya Verma.
'I'm just an actress, a star. I'm just holding on to my fame... kyunki aur kuch aata hi nahi hai,' admits Anamika Anand (Madhuri Dixit Nene) in a rare candid moment.
She always drops her guard around Manish Khanna (Manav Kaul), a co-star she made a super hit pair with 20 years ago.
Twenty years later, they reunite on a movie at her husband Nikhil's (Sanjay Kapoor) request for a passion project they are co-producing.
It's only fitting it should be titled Hasrat (Desire).
If those lingering glances and lyrical exchanges are any indication, there are unresolved feelings between the two.
Nikhil isn't oblivious to the equation Anamika and Manish share.
'Isse boltein hai chemistry. Aag lagi hui thi,' he sighs.
The Sri Rao conceptualised Netflix series directed by Bejoy Nambiar and Karishma Kohli comes alive in these private moments.
But The Fame Game is also a mystery and, often, fulfilling a genre's obligations distracts us from savouring the portrait of a Bollywood heroine gone mysteriously missing.
Madhuri Dixit Nene, playing an actress in a darker, dysfunctional version of her own reality, is easily the most attractive attribute of her debut in the world of streaming.
Anyone who saw the euphoria when she burst into her iconic moves in Tezaab will remember the power she wields over her audience.
Over the years, she has grown older, wiser but her command over her art and magnetism powered by that million-dollar smile is as irresistible as it was the day the world cried, 'Mohini, Mohini, Mohini'.
There too, she was kidnapped in the beginning of the story, which then travels back and forth in time to reveal the events that led to this development.
The Fame Game taps into her iconic imagery and our awe-filled perception of Madhuri's carefully constructed stardom which saves it from explaining the merits of Anamika's unusually long and successful career.
She is a star -- the kind they don't make any more.
And The Fame Game enthusiastically deconstructs Madhuri's glamorous silver screen persona to build a web of deceit and intrigue.
It's like every director has a different idea of how they want to portray her and she finds a magical way to balance them all.
After returning home from an awards function, Anamika mysteriously vanishes.
Whether she is abducted or left on her own accord is unknown.
But when the police, led by a lesbian cop (Rajshri Deshpande), begin investigating her disappearance, skeletons pop out from every closet of the celebrity breadwinner's seemingly perfect family.
Nikhil's finances are in a mess, Anamika's mum (Suhasini Mulay) is a sharp-tongued control freak, her aunt (Shubhangi Latkar) knows more than letting on, her kids Avi (Lakshvir Singh Saran) and Amara (Muskkaan Jaferi) are coping with the insecurities of young adulthood...
Anamika is a discerning woman.
She is conscious of Avi's growing depression and Amara's acting aspirations in the era of #nepokids.
A middle-class Marathi mulgi who has come up the hard way, she doesn't take her success or fans for granted.
She isn't delusional and fully conscious of what it means to be a middle-age superstar surviving in an ageist and sexist industry that is selectively unkind and capitalist.
She also realises the partner she has may not be the partner she needs, but fame comes with a price and keeping up appearances.
As we journey through her Bhumika-ish dilemmas and Maya Memsaab-like exploration into the enigma of Anamika, the characters spread themselves out in numerous directions.
Unfortunately, the ones not featuring Madhuri are not that good.
The Fame Game, which dazzles effortlessly in her presence, stumbles under the weight of uneven, overzealous writing when she is not around.
Like Amara bonding with her mum's creepy fan (Gagan Arora), Avi's pretentious heart-to-hearts with a sex worker hit a bizarre note.
But most exasperating is the cop handling Anamika's case. Rajshri Deshpande has a solid, steely presence but her cynical, anti-Bollywood characterisation is all over the place.
Luckily, Anamika and the two men in her life, on different ends of the spectrum, keep us invested in Rao's glossily packaged suspenseful drama.
Manav Kaul plays a superstar of SRK proportions, waving at the crowd gathered outside his Mannat-sized home from the terrace with élan.
On the other hand, Sanjay Kapoor smoothly delivers Nikhil's business-minded half.
There's a mysterious third figure lurking in the shadows, artist or admirer, The Fame Game takes its own sweet time to reveal.
How is it connected to Anamika vanishing?
The eight-part series prolongs the suspense till the very end.
What it showcases right away is the depth and marvels of Madhuri as she switches between star and human, mother and woman.
The rapid rate at which her expressions change on learning of a confidant's betrayal is telling of the extraordinary journey the superstar has coursed.
The Fame Game streams on Netflix.