Ashley and I. We were friends. How, you ask? From two different sides of the screen, silly. Ashley from the cult television serial Banegi Apni Baat and me never missed sneaking into the drawing room late at night, face to face with a dumb television in between, during those ‘90’s evenings. He was a treat for all of us women in their teens. I spoke a lot to him. He seemed to listen with patience, and seldom answered back.
When Banegi Apni Baat went off air, they said Ashley had another name. R. Madhavan! He kept playing a strange hide and seek with us, making himself available sometimes and then there would be some episodes where he’s disappoint with disappearance. Those were the days of Sea Hawks, Saaya, Ghar Jamai. As if he knew he had eked out a special place in the hearts of many girls in their teens and we couldn’t get enough of him. He was everything a girl could’ve desired for. He was romantic, handsome, cute, nice and everything a girl ever wants in a guy.
But after the TV shows, Ashley was lost for long. There was a long wait before I could get to see him again, and this time it was in the film, Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein. What a transformation from the shy guy I once found so friendly, without even meeting him once! I remember staying glued to our old television set to ensure that I didn’t miss watching the mellifluous song Zara Zara over and over again on MTV and other channels, not only for its catchy, foot tapping tune but also to get a glimpse of Madhavan. Sadly, in the pre-Internet era there was no other way to stalk our idols virtually for 24/7.
Now, when I sit back and ponder why were we so crazy about Madhavan and why he unfailingly brought that grin on our face, despite the three Khans ruling the roost, the only possible reason I feel was his innocent charm. A pleasant break from the North Indian flavour of Bollywood, he seemed so inherently good natured and graceful that you couldn’t help but fall in love with his persona. His looks were so pure; he always came across as a well-behaved, dependable guy and that was perhaps his biggest sex appeal. And of course, that smile to kill for. You always want a guy like him. I remember a friend of mine gushing over his smile and telling us that if only her philandering boyfriend had a smile like Madhavan’s, she would have forgiven all his waywardness.
This charm resonates with the audience drooling over him when he comes ahead as the honest and nice Dr. Manu Sharma in Tanu Weds Manu and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Even when you feel angry at Manu for keeping quiet, you tend to overlook that and empathise with him. I guess that’s mostly because Manu is played by Madhavan.
The boy has a charm of his own. Yes, I say boy, because still at the age of 47, he has retained the boyish charm of Ashley. Whatever name he might have assumed today, this person will always remain Ashley for me, as my teen-heart secretly skipped many beats every time he appeared on screen.
Wishing R. Madhavan a very happy birthday. Hope he keeps coming back on big screen more frequently to charm us with his boyish grin.