Movies

‘English Vinglish was my accidental return’

Despite the series of interviews lined-up for her, Sridevi does not rush any answers, and manages to stay breezy and warm throughout our interaction. This year, the actor completes 50 years in the industry, but she sounds as excited as a newcomer. “Every film feels like my first,” she states. The same holds true for her upcoming thriller Mom that releases this week, in which she plays a mother in a complicated relationship with her daughter. “It’s a very intense and emotional family drama,” says the actor, refusing to reveal anything more than the film’s dark trailer.

The film is being directed by debutant director, Ravi Udyawar, but Sridevi did not have to think twice about signing up for the project. “His commercials are done so stylishly,” she gushes, “and after working with him, I can’t see anyone else doing justice to the film.”

Mom’s release this month commemorates her 50-year-long film career, and is the actor’s 300th movie. “Till Boneyji announced it, I didn’t even realise that it was my 300th film,” Sridevi says laughing. The actor’s journey and rapid rise is all the more impressive once seen in the context of her non-film background. While her father was a lawyer, her uncle was a Congress MLA who had once asked his brother to attend a function he could not go for. Being close to her father, four-year-old Sridevi demanded to tag along. “Over there the great Tamil poet and lyricist Kannadasan noticed me and asked my father if he’d want to see me act in films,” the actor reminisces. “My father was taken aback and hurriedly said he’d ask his wife first.” Her mother was significantly more excited until they wanted Sridevi to shave her head for the role. But when the four-year-old debuted in Thunaivan’s (1969) as Lord Muruga, she ended up keeping her head full of hair, and it marked the start of a superstar’s career.

The actor who has been hailed as India’s Meryl Streep and at times also compared to Audrey Hepburn, is overwhelmed by the reception of her performances. But her humility is quick to shift the focus to her co-stars’ stellar performances in Mom. “When Akshaye Khanna is in the frame”, she says, “I guarantee that no one can look at anything or anyone else.” Sridevi also admits to being transfixed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s performance in front of the camera, apparently a complete contrast to his much quieter self in person.

Though the actor keeps reiterating how her team made working for Mom so easy, she reveals that shooting itself was immensely tiring. Numerous sequences of the film were shot in the country of Georgia as Udyawar wanted a cloudy and gloomy tone for some of the film’s segments. This meant waiting in long stretches for the sun to provide the exact limited amount of lighting. The actor confesses that getting the right kind of food as a vegetarian in a land of meat eaters was difficult to say the least. “But the mushrooms, and my daughters’ company for the 15 days of shooting there made everything enjoyable,” she grins.

Mom joins Sridevi’s most recent film outing, English Vinglish (2012), and her iconic double-role in Chaalbaaz (1989) as a woman-centric film. Looking back on her five decades in Indian cinema, the actor is certain that things are looking up for female actors in the industry and believes it is the best time to be a part of it. “Writers are coming up with concepts focussing on female leads, and producers have found these ideas to be bankable,” she explains. “Audiences are willing to watch heroine-oriented movies, so I’m extremely grateful to be still a part of this industry.”

Before being established enough to have her own films, there was a time Sridevi was cast opposite actors much older than herself. Take for instance her first lead role in the Telugu film, Anuraagalu in 1976. As a 12-year-old, Sridevi was dressed in sarees and had to don wigs to look older for her character. “The producer and director had not even told me that I was the heroine,” she shares while seeming to be as shocked as she must have been then. “I was still doing children’s roles and had acted as N. T. Rama Rao’s granddaughter in Badi Panthulu (1972)”. It came as a surprise then, when she was cast opposite him a few years later in Vetagaadu (1979).

Sridevi’s career grew in a similar vein of unexpected steps. “I don’t believe in planning things,” she says. “I was busy with my kids for a 15-year-long hiatus and had no plans of returning to the industry. But English Vinglish happened and that was my accidental return.”

Sridevi speaks

Favourite film: Moondram Pirai (1982), the Tamil version of Sadma (1983), is very close to my heart because it was a very different role for me. When my daughter Janhvi watched it as a five-year-old, she was so upset she did not talk to me for two to three days because she thought I was very mean to Kamal Haasan!

Favourite role: The Charlie Chaplin segment in Mr. India (1987) really stands out for me as I grew up watching his films and am a huge fan of his. Shekhar Kapur started [out] with a few shots but since it went on very well he extended the piece and it became an iconic part of the film.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 6:28:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/english-vinglish-was-my-accidental-return/article19210882.ece

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