At first, I thought that the news was a hoax. Like most celebrity death news! But, when the news actually turned out to be true, it took some time to register. It still feels so unreal. Death comes like a thief for some and some like the prince that walks right into your door. Reminds you how life is such a precious gift and how it´s all temporary!
Anyway, I still remember my first Hindi film at the age of 5. It was ´Disco Dancer´ and I was a Mithun-Mandakini fan then. But, the next movie completely changed my preferences for life. It was ´Mr.India´. I was mesmerised by Sridevi´s histrionics on-screen. Since then, I have never seen any other actress come close to Sridevi´s versatility and electrifying screen presence.
Growing up in the southern part of India, one couldn´t escape the Sridevi frenzy. She was everywhere – on wall posters, theatre halls, newspapers, billboards. She rubbed her shoulders with the who´s who of the Southern film industry and in most cases, she was actually way better than most of her male superstars.
Sridevi has and will always be the greatest Indian actress for me. Comedy is one of the hardest things to portray onscreen and Sridevi had the best comic timing as an actress. Think her as Charlie Chaplin in Mr.India! Her iconic roles in Moondram Pirai (Sadma´s original version in Tamil), Sigappu Rojakkal, 16 Vayathinile/Padaharella Vayasu, Lamhe, Mr. India, Chaalbaaz, English Vinglish, Laadla, Judaai, Mom, Chandni, Khuda Gawah, Kshana Kshanam, Jagadaka Veerudi Athiloka Sundari and more will always be remembered. This National award winning song ´Sendura Poove´ from 16 Vayathinile forayed her entry as lead actress in South Indian cinema.
Sridevi is an institution in acting. Unlike others who go to acting and drama schools to hone the craft, Sridevi was a natural, effortless and spontaneous actor. Born to a Tamilian father and Andhrite mother, she made her inroads into acting in the illustrious Malayalam film industry reputed for its realistic cinema at the tender age of 4. The fact is that she continued to be at the ´top of her game´ until her sudden death at 54. She played mature roles befitting her age onscreen in ´English Vinglish´ and ´Mom´. I thought she was like fine wine when it came to acting. She was only getting better and better at her craft. Little wonder, she was the first choice for the role of Sivagami in ´Bahubali´. I still think that had it not been for the misunderstandings in the film pre-negotiations, she would have done a much better job than Ramya Krishna. Ramya Krishna was good no doubt but no one comes anywhere close to Sridevi when it comes to acting. I loved how she clarified all the Bahubali related controversies with such dignity and grace. In the telugu interview, she clarifies how she never made those demands and if it were so, she wouldn´t be in the position that she was in at that time. Sridevi was someone who never courted controversies or made callous remarks about any of her co-stars. She had a deep sense of respect for her profession and the acting community at large.
I remember so vividly her last movie, Mom and one particular scene where she breaks down in the hospital after seeing her raped step-daughter. I remember my movie review where I wrote that talent has no expiry date. In less than a year, she´s gone to another world. But, her work remains iconic and immortal. How I wish Sridevi were alive and we´d see more of this powerhouse of talent onscreen. In commercial potboilers ..Karan Johar productions, Yash Raj films, Sanjay Leela Bhansali productions and more. As well as in offbeat Indie movies such as English Vinglish.
The fact that she acted with the best of male actors, directors and producers in the country in different regional languages and genres is testimony to her acting calibre. She was the most-sought after actress not just for her acting talent alone but also for her professionalism and gracious attitude. If Sridevi was phenomenal on-screen, she was a recluse offscreen! It took a lot for her to really open up. On the professional front, she never bragged about her talent claiming to be the greatest actress alive. She never talked ill of any of her contemporaries. You might find other co-actors who talked ill of her but surely never vice-versa. In fact, she acted with many of her female contemporaries with no insecurities whatsoever – be it Jayaprada, Rekha, Meenakshi Seshadri and more. She always praised the youngsters for their acting talent – Be it Kajol, Kareena or Kangana! The fact that she was comfortable acting with male superstars and female contemporaries alike and praised younger actors speaks volumes about her unassuming nature. She was not an insecure actress at all trying to ensure that the spotlight fell only on her and no one else. Neither was she apologetic or over humble about herself either. She had the a quiet confidence or the right kind of confidence, I must say. She had no active PR team actively campaigning for her brand image. She loved being in front of the arc-lights and coming alive on screen. She did her job quietly and went back home. Her work spoke the loudest for her. Like a true lioness, she did´n´t have to prove to the world her mettle. The world could see it for themselves. Kamal Hassan couldn´t have said it better about Sridevi in this interview where he described her as a blotting paper.
A lot has been said about her personal life. All I can say is that it takes two to tango. While all fingers point towards her for being the ´other woman´, the truth is that Boney Kapoor was pursuing her much before she even entered the Hindi film industry. He was completely besotted by her, way before she was for him.
As her die-hard fan, I loved her raw unaltered face as well. Yes, even the pre-plastic surgery stubby nose because I loved her talent far more than her looks. Yes, she had beautiful big expressive eyes, a cherubic face and she oozed sex-appeal! But, what made her stand tall and different from any other actress was her in-born acting talent, versatility and charisma. But, I also understand the need and pressure for actors to resort to plastic surgery to stay in the game. Almost all actors, male or female, have resorted to some kind of physical alteration at some point of time in their acting career. I believe that Sridevi, the actor has always been reinventing herself and keeping up with the times.
When she became a mother, she didn’t think twice before giving up the arc lights. She enjoyed being the demure homemaker for 15 years and being a doting wife and mother. I loved how unconventional she was as a mother. She seemed more like a friend figure to her daughters. I loved how she gave her daughters the liberty to be themselves. She was a fantastic mother.
I remember the controversy that Jhanvi Kapoor found herself to be in when news reports came up about her starstruck behaviour around Ranbir Kapoor and how she clammed herself in her bedroom after reading about it. Sridevi immediately came to her daughter´s defence and one could see the protective motherly side of her.
She spoke often about her daughter´s marriages and was eagerly looking forward to Jhanvi’s film debut. Alas, she won’t be around to witness these life-events, at least in her earthly avataar. She would have made a fire-cracking grandmother, defying all societal norms, even at the age of 90 if she were alive.
I don´t know whose idea it was to make Sridevi sing in this song (and too a Hindi one) and she sportingly pulled it off somehow. Sridevi was one actress who could go from funny to seductive to terrifying to intense all in the blink of an eye.
We live in an age where National Awards are given away like candies to much less-deserving actors and actresses who don´t hold a candle to Sridevi´s talent. I´m sorry but a mere Padma Shri award is not suffice for the powerhouse of talent that she was. Two movies for which she truly deserved the National Award were ´Moondram Pirai´/Sadma´ and Lamhe. In fact, if there was anyone who deserved the maximum National Awards, it was her! In that respect, I feel Sridevi was highly underrated as an actress. It´s a shame really because Sridevi was the real deal compared to the overhyped multiple award winners and so-called actors today. She could play any role and shine even in a C or D grade film. One can never say she was bad in any film. Such was her undeniable talent!
Her sensuous ‘Kate Nahin Kat Te’ song from Mr.India could put Sunny Leone and the likes to shame. All the modern day actors, be it Kajol, Kareena or Kangana, are mere imitators or clones of her style. For an untrained dancer, Sridevi was very good in the dancing department as well. There are actresses who are remembered for different things – some for their beauty, some for their dancing abilities, some for their size zero, some for their numerous awards. But there will be none who comes close to Sridevi. Please show me one actress who ruled the roost like a Queen in so many different states, languages and genres. Sridevi was a complete actress and her shoes will be impossible to fill. She will sorely be missed on the big screen.
In conclusion, I am sharing one of my favourite songs feat Sridevi, Kamal Hassan, musician Ilayaraja, lyrics by Gulzaar and sung by S Janaki. I also thought she paired best with Kamal Hassan onscreen. Two equally insanely talented actors…it was such a treat to watch them together!
RIP Sridevi! The real ´Queen´ in Indian Cinema!
(Author´s Note: At this time of Sridevi´s sad, shocking and sudden demise, I do not want to get judgemental and speculative about her life and would highly appreciate the same in your comments.)