At first, I thought that the news was a hoax. But when the news actually turned out to be true, it took some time to register. It still feels so unreal. For some, death comes like a prince who walks in through your door. For others, death is like a thief who you never anticipate. It reminds you that life is a precious gift and it’s all temporary.
Anyway, I still remember my first Hindi film at the age of five. It was “Disco Dancer” and I was a Mithun-Mandakini fan then. But the next movie I watched 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 or her electrifying screen presence.
Growing up in the southern part of India, one couldn’t escape the Sridevi frenzy. She was everywhere – on 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 far better than most 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 of 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. The National award winning song “Sendura Poove” from “16 Vayathinile” forayed her entry as a lead actress in south Indian cinema.
Sridevi was 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 Andhraite mother, she made her inroads into acting in the illustrious Malayalam film industry reputed for its realistic cinema at the tender age of four.
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 then that she was the first choice for the role of Sivagami in “Bahubali”. I still think that had it not been for the misunderstandings during the pre-negotiations, she would have done a much better job than Ramya Krishna. Ramya Krishna was no doubt good 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 a Telugu interview, she clarified how she never made the alleged demands. 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 her last movie “Mom” so vividly, especially 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, produced by Karan Johar, Yash Raj films, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 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 a testimony to her acting calibre. She was the most-sought after actress not just for her acting talent but also for her professionalism and gracious attitude. If Sridevi was phenomenal on-screen, she was a recluse off-screen. It took a lot for her to really open up.
On the professional front, she never bragged about her talent – she never claimed to be the greatest actress alive. She never talked ill of any of her contemporaries. You will find other actors and actress who do that. 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 her male 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 about herself. She had a quiet confidence or the right kind of confidence, I must say. She had no 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 didn’t have to prove her mettle to the world. 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 had been pursuing her since the 1970s. He was completely besotted by her.
Personally, 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 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. I also understand the need and pressure for actors to resort to plastic surgery to stay in the game. Almost all actors have resorted to some kind of physical alteration at some point of time in their acting career. Sridevi, the actress, was always reinventing herself and changing 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.
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 sufficient for the powerhouse of talent that she was. Films for which she truly deserved the National Award were “Moondram Pirai”, “Sadma” and “Lamhe”. In fact, if there was anyone who deserved the maximum number of 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 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, featuring Sridevi and Kamal Hassan. It was composed by musician Ilayaraja, with lyrics by Gulzaar and sung by S Janaki. I also thought she paired best with Kamal Hassan onscreen. It was such a treat to watch two equally talented actors share the screen together.
RIP Sridevi! The real ‘Queen’ of acting in Indian cinema!