Sridevi: The child artiste destined for greatness

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In later years, Sridevi was known to smile a mischievous smile and tell nervous journalists, “Don’t be like that. I am nothing special. I just do my work to the best of my abilities, as I hope my daughters will do when they start their careers. Luckily for me, I haven’t lost my enthusiasm and passion for the camera. I still feel the same palpitation on my first day of shooting that I did when I started off as a child artiste in Tamil cinema when I was only 4. I never lost my excitement for acting. The day I do I will quit.” The 54-year-old legend had spent 50 entire years of her life as an actress. She had started her acting career with M A Thirumugam’s 1969 devotional film, Thunaivan as virtually a baby of 4. She played the role of young Lord Muruga in the film. It was her role as the adopted daughter of Sivaji Ganesan in the film Babu (1971) that really saw her find her space in audiences’ hearts, as she tugged at heartstrings and proved she was a talent who was here to stay. Recommended Read: Live Update: Dubai Police transfers the case to Dubai Public Prosecution Earlier she had also acted with MGR in the film Nam Naadu (1969), which laid the foundations of her film career. More particularly, the maturity she showed in the song sequences in these two films - “Itho enthan theivam munnaley” in Babu and “Nalla Perai Vaangavendum Pillaikale” in Nam Naadu – proved that here was an actress made for greatness. Yes, and she was all of 5 at the time. Multiple films as a child artiste followed across the parallel South industries - Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films. She made her debut in Tollywood as a child artist with the 1970 Telugu film Maa Nanna Nirdoshi. Her performance in Poompatta (1971) in Malayalam even won her the Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Artist. Other notable films of her career as a child artiste include Kandan Karunai (1967), Prarthanai (1970), Badi Panthulu (1972), Bala Bharatam (1972), Vasantha Maaligai (1972) and Bhakta Kumbara (1974). Not many are aware that in 1972, Sridevi debuted as a child artist in Bollywood with Rani Mera Naam directed by K. S. R. Das. She also did Julie, playing the younger sister to the protagonist Lakshmi. Her debut as a heroine came in Balachander’s Moondru Mudichu in 1976. She had just stepped into her teens – a heroine at 13, acting opposite much-older greats like Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan. It wasn’t long before she became the most sought-after artiste; her name, a byword for beauty. The highest compliment you could pay a girl in Tamil Nadu at that time was to tell her she looked like Sridevi! Writer Mathimaran wrote about her, “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.” The 1977 film 16 Vayathinile directed by Bharathiraja established Sridevi as the quintessential Tamil beauty. The editor of the film magazine Katchipizhai summed up her appeal thus… “She is the Azhagana Tamilachi. She was beautiful, but not erotic. I will call her a divine beauty.” The hits kept coming as her young talent kept growing and finding expression. Mahendran’s Johnny, Balumahendra’s Moondram Pirai, and Bharathiraja’s Sigappu Rojakkal saw her leave an indelible mark in the minds of film goers. Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu saw her exhibiting her range like never before, while Meendum Kokila as a Brahmin woman attested to her versatility. The young slip of a girl had morphed into a performer who outdid her heroes, including greats like Kamal Haasan. Her first starring role in Hindi cinema came with the 1979 drama film Solva Sawan. She was 16. Director Bharathiraja wielded the megaphone for the Hindi version of this South hit as well, which also marked his Bollywood debut. He recalls, “There are a lot of actresses who forayed into Bollywood and other industries and disappeared without a trace. But Sridevi was an exception. She ruled all the film industries during her heydays. Today, I can proudly say that I'm the one who introduced her in Bollywood through Solva Sawan where she shared the screen with Amol Palekar. When I told her about the remake idea, she was sceptical and refused to set foot in Hindi cinema. Then I promised her that I would take care of everything and convinced her to do the film. She later climbed up the ladder of Bollywood through her relentless hard work and extraordinary talent,” he said. ‘Relentless hard work and extraordinary talent’ - a combination that comes very rarely… It did in a phenomenon called Sridevi.   

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