Sridevi Birthday Special: The south Indian actress who broke glass ceilings in male-dominated Bollywood giving a new meaning to how girls were perceived


Sridevi is a name that every Indian moviebuff swears by. The actress, the diva, the stunning star and heartthrob of not only common men but also Bollywood celebs, would have turned 57 years old today on August 13, 2020. However, she was snatched away, leaving a deep void in all our hearts on February 24, 2018. In a career spanning five decades, a few years too many for an actress in the sexist, ageist and stereotypical film industry, Sridevi meant a lot of things to a lot of people.

Sridevi was India’s first and probably the only female superstar who never played by the cookie-cutter definition of a Hindi film heroine- not in the 80s, not in the 90s and neither in 2000s. The actress broke barriers of regions, establishing herself successfully in Bollywood after a glorious stint in the South film industry.

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She also was one of the few actresses who called the shots in the industry sharing the same amount of screen time as compared to her leading men. In fact, in many films, she was the main protagonist and shouldered them on her able shoulders. Top-notch A-listers played second fiddle to her in several blockbuster films like Chaalbaaz, Gumrah, Nagina, Lamhe, Laadla, Judaai among others.

Sridevi was the highest-paid actress of her time and shared screen space with all the leading men right from Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Nagarjuna, Dharmendra, Venkatesh, Rajnikanth, Mithun Chakraborty, Sunny Deol, Kamal Haasan, Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Jeetendra, Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshaye Khanna.

Bollywood is well known to adhere to clichés and stereotypes based on regionalism and languages. Till date, if there is a Bengali, Bihari or Tamilian in a film they are made to speak in accented Hindi, aka ‘funny Hindi’, treating them as outsiders and often as comic relief. However, Sridevi defied these stereotypes and revelled in them. For the longest time, Rekha and Naaz used to dub for her in films. Chandni was the first film that Sridevi dubbed in her own voice. However, she never let these deter her and managed to give one blockbuster performance after another.

Now, that Priyanka Chopra Jonas has become the biggest Bollywood export to Hollywood and cemented her place in it. It is a lesser-known fact that Sridevi was approached for a starring role in Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus Jurassic Park. However, Sridevi was at the peak of her career at that time so refused it saying it will not suit her status. Sridevi even worked as a playback singer in films like Chandni, Sadma, Kshana Kshanam, and Garajna.

Sridevi became the heartthrob of millions, not only of the male audience but enthralled her female fans as well. To hold a sensuous song like Kaate Nahi Katte on her own without an actor in the same frame was a feat never known before, yet she aced it and how. Her impersonation of Charlie Chaplin in Mr India is probably the best we’ve ever seen in Hindi films. Her comic timing impeccable and she could light up the screen with her expressions and her eyes.

She was also a trendsetter with her iconic monochrome sarees as well as her roles. Lamhe was a difficult role and film that cost her several admirers. Playing the double role of a mother and a daughter, with the latter being in love with her mother’s admirer is not something an actress will choose to do even in today’s day and age, yet she took it up with aplomb. Playing the role of a girl suffering from retrograde amnesia in Sadma, Sridevi floored everyone with her performance. The film did not do too well at the box office when it was released but has become one of the most iconic films of cinema and earned her Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actress.

Today, a number of actresses like Priyanka, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone and others have turned producer but Sridevi did it in the 90s. She produced Shakti: The Power (2002) that featured Karisma Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Sanjay Kapoor and Nana Patekar in the lead.

Sridevi dappled in television as well and acted in the sitcom Malini Iyer. The series was produced by her husband Boney Kapoor and directed by Satish Kaushik. It follows the story of a south Indian Tamil Brahman girl who marries a Punjabi guy. The problems arise when she has to move to Punjab with her husband but manages to bring both the cultures together with ingenuity and love.

Sridevi’s last film Mom was another ground-breaking story. Usually, mothers are depicted as nurturing, forgiving, and caring, damsels in distress in the Hindi film industry, but Sridevi gave the matriarch a completely new turn with her hard-hitting revengeful character who is out to avenge her daughter’s perpetrators.

Sridevi broke several glass ceilings in Bollywood. She had producers lining up with scripts written especially for her. Shah Rukh Khan’s Baazigar was offered to Sridevi with the dual role of sisters but the makers decided against casting her because it would have overwhelmed the audience watching SRK’s character killing her on screen.

Sridevi was quiet and reserved off camera but transformed into a livewire onscreen. She ensured heroines become more than props in Hindi films. Holding often meatier roles than her heroes, she made sure the female protagonist had more to do than just look pretty and dance around trees. She was strong, funny, silly, goofy, emotional, daring, action-oriented, sexy, firebrand and has a mind of her own. She could be coy and submissive yet wield a sword or a whip to put the baddies in place. Sridevi taught everyone that a girl can frolic, have male friends and yet be an endearing and kind woman. Sridevi taught us that a girl could be anything and everything she wanted to be with her on-screen portrayals and for that we will forever be thankful for!