Sridevi — the full story

Superstar Sridevi: the woman who rewrote the game

Actor Sridevi.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Sometimes you can apprehend the intimations of a tragedy in hindsight. It was in the early hours of Sunday morning that I saw Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet: “Na jaane kyun ek ajeeb si ghabrahat ho rahi hai (I don’t know why I am feeling a sense of unease).” Eerily, within minutes, the shocking news of actor-producer Sridevi’s untimely demise in Dubai started pouring in.

Bollywood came to a standstill and one of the several shoots that got cancelled on Sunday was of a song composed by Bachchan himself, for Umesh Shukla’s film 102 Not Out. It was meant to be shot with Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, two of many top heroes that Sridevi consistently starred with, at the peak of her Hindi film career.

Breaking the mould

In the chase for stardom, acting never took a backseat. ‘Range’ is a word often used to describe an actor’s prowess. Drama, emotions, dance, comedy, even action — there was nothing she wasn’t proficient at. She made her debut in Bollywood as a child artiste in Julie (1975) followed by a teenager act in a complicated love triangle in Solva Saawan (1979). Her resounding success began with Jeetendra in the 1983 blockbuster Himmatwala. It set off a spree of several films with him, most of which were South productions and huge hits. They also earned her the rather pejorative title of ‘thunder thighs’.

Straddling many worlds

Her critical and commercial hits continued. In 1983, Sridevi’s stunning performance in the remake of Tamil film Moondram Pirai (1982) opposite Kamal Haasan got rave reviews from critics but bombed at the box office. Two of Yash Chopra’s most memorable films were with Sridevi — one a massive hit (Chandni, 1989) and the other a flop (Lamhe, 1991). Even her snake-woman films — Nagina (1986) and Nigahen (1989) — were insanely popular.

A career-defining act came in Mr. India (1987) — be it her Charlie Chaplin mimicry or the erotic rain song in the blue chiffon sari. Reams have been written about how the song ‘Kaate Nahi Katate Ye Din Ye Raat’ is the perfect representation of all that Sridevi stood for — oomph with rare dignity and grace. There was a gravitas and propriety in her bearing even in the worst of films on her ouvre. Combined with that was the mix of innocence and mischief in her huge, saucer eyes. No wonder, Sridevi’s connect with the audience was electric. How could you not dance along to ‘Kisi ke haath na aayegi ye ladki’ (Chalbaaz, 1989) and marvel at her expressiveness and abandon in front of the camera, while still being intensely private and introverted in real life?

Mehdi Nebbou, who played her French admirer in English Vinglish (2012) famously described her eyes as “two drops of coffee in a cloud of milk”. In her comeback film, she brought alive the vulnerability, dilemmas and hurt of a woman who has been taken for granted.

Final glimpses

The last we will see of Sridevi will be as herself in SRK’s forthcoming Zero, directed by Aanand L. Rai. The last we saw her on screen was in Mom (2017). As usual, her character was a picture of dignity, despite the turmoil and rage locked up within. It was her 300th film, 50 years since she joined cinema. “The film is my tribute to her and since I cannot build a Taj Mahal for her, I am making Mom,” her husband, producer Boney Kapoor, had prophetically said. Those words, like Bachchan's tweet, seem to have apprehended the intimations of a tragedy, in hindsight.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 4:57:07 AM |

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