Sridevi — the full story

Sridevi in Tamil filmdom: the child artiste who made it big

Sridevi at a presentation of ‘English Vinglish’ at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival. File   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Sridevi was one of the few child artistes who made it big in the Tamil film world.  She was first cast as the god Murugan in the film Thunaivan released in 1969.  But it was her role as the adopted daughter of Sivaji Ganesan in the film Babu that tugged at the heartstrings of many, and heralded the arrival of a great talent.

Earlier she acted with MGR in the film Nam Naadu. Besides acting, the songs in these films — “Itho enthan theivam munnaley” in Babu and “Nalla Perai Vaangavendum Pillaikale” in Nam Naadu — laid the foundations for her film career. She showed enormous maturity while appearing in the song sequences.

Sridevi made her debut in "Thunaivan" (1969) where she played the role of Lord Muruga.

Sridevi made her debut in "Thunaivan" (1969) where she played the role of Lord Muruga.  

She broke through as a heroine in Balachander’s Moondru Mudichu in 1976. She was just 13 and acted opposite both Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan, who also entered the film world as a child artiste. Soon she became the most sought-after artiste and her name became a byword for beauty.  “She looks like Sridevi,” became a byword for beauty in Tamil Nadu.

“She was both beautiful and talented. She had in her the elements of Savithiri, who matched Sivaji Ganesan in acting, and Padmini, a great dancer and performer,’ said writer Mathimaran, who has written extensively about Sridevi’s talent as an actor.

Bharathiraja’s 16 Vayathinile in 1977 established Sridevi as a quintessential Tamil beauty with her role as Mayil (the name means peacock in Tamil). It was a period in which Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan acted together as villain and hero respectively. The song “Senthoora Poove” with the music of Illayaraja continues to haunt generations of film music lovers.

“The words that 'Aatha naan paasaiten'  [mom, I have cleared SSLC examination] still ring in my years. She is the Azhagana Tamilachi. She was beautiful, but not erotic. I will call her a divine beauty,” said Subagunarajan, who was editor of now defunct film magazine Katchipizhai.

Her talents found expression in Mahendran’s Johnny, Balumahendra’s Moondram Pirai, and Bharathiraja’s films like Sigappu Rojakkal.

In Moondram Pirai, Sridevi matched, and in some scenes exceeded, Kamal Haasan’s acting talents. Whether fondly calling her pet dog Subramani or slightly touching Kamal Haasan’s hands with the tip of her tongue in the song “Kannay Kalaimaane” or throwing a piece of coin to Kamal Haasan after she regained her memory, she slipped into the skin of the character.

“In many films I could see her outperforming the heroes including Kamal Haasan. Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu is the film that offered her maximum space to exhibit her talents. She effortlessly performed in the song sequence ‘Sippi Irukkuthu Muthu Irukkuthu’,” said Mr. Mathimaran.

Meendum Kokila and Johnny are the other two memorable films. Her role as a Brahmin woman and the song “Chinnansiru vayathil enakkor” in Meendum Kokila bore testimony to her versatility. The singer in Johnny and the songs will leave the film lovers with a sense of great loss.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 11:38:12 AM |

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