It's been 365 days since we lost acting legend Sridevi to accidental drowning in Dubai but we still cannot bring ourselves to read or write about her in the past tense. At 54, Sridevi drew her last breath on February 24, 2018. Survived by her husband Boney Kapoor and daughters Janhvi Kapoor and Khushi Kapoor, Sridevi is that magic that lingers on long after the spell has ended. For good things never die, right?
Sridevi was a born star. She would face the cameras and make them her own muse. She was a name synonymous with true-to-life acting finesse, her impeccable comic timing without batting an eyelid ensued laughter riots and her flawless moves only exhibited tonnes of the grace she possessed. As India's first female superstar, she could rightfully and singlehandedly decide the fate of a film, driving each to the steps of glory on her own merit alone. Having starred in some of the biggest blockbusters of Hindi and South cinema, Sridevi won laurels and accolades for her brilliant portrayal of women who found themselves in challenging situations in a male-dominated society.
Sridevi left strong imprints ever since her first appearance on the screen as a child artist. Born as Shree Amma Yanger Ayappan in Tamil Nadu’s Sivakasi on August 13, 1963, Sridevi was introduced to the world of acting at the tender age of four. Thereafter, there was no looking back for the eloquent beauty. Her first outing was a devotional film Thunaivan, followed by appearances in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam projects. However, it was in the year 1976 that she landed her first leading role in K Balachander’s Moondru Mudichu. The movie also earmarked the beginning of a successful inning with the director and co-stars Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.
The terrific trio of Sridevi, Kamal and Rajinikanth went on to enliven some of the greatest gems of Tamil cinema including Gaayathri (1977), Kaavikuyil (1977), Priya (1978) and 16 Vayathinile. However, despite the young age, Sridevi brought to life strong female characters who stood up for their beliefs. Her acting prowess was in the top form from the first 'Action' clap to the last 'Cut' of her cineblitz journey. Not the one to hitch her wagon to a star, Sridevi rode on her confidence and talent alone to carve a niche for herself even in hero-centric films! Beaming with confidence and security in her frame, Sridevi’s roles were a call to the conscience or the saving grace of a dreaded man. But yet, she held her ground, admirably and in a commendable way.
Come 1983 and Sridevi put her broad range of acting chops on display with Sadma, Balu Mahendra’s remake of Moondram Pirai and a commercial potboiler Himmatwala. The first one starred her opposite Haasan while the latter was alongside Jeetendra. The first brought in critical acclaims while the other one escalated her as one of the crèmes de la crème of Bollywood. The success of Himmatwala paved way for more South Indian hit films to be remade. Not only were they super duper blockbusters, but Sridevi worked with the leading men of Hindi cinema in them, including Mawaali (1983), Inquilaab (1984) and Tohfa (1984).
More or less, these remakes showed the taming of the shrew (Sridevi) at the hands of a gentlemanly hero. However, what they did bring to the limelight were the naturalness in her poise and flow when it came to dancing. As the shape-shifting snake in Nagina (1986), Sridevi’s towering presence left little to no space for Rishi Kapoor to hog the spotlight. Her life became this non-stop cycle of hits and flops, there was no room for anything less than a superlative performance. Shekhar Kapur may have titled her film opposite Anil Kapoor as Mr. India, but the Charlie Chaplin act with a tinge of a dramatic eye roll and comic acts made the entire fraternity turn it to "Miss India."
Sridevi was sometimes the docile one getting tortured at the hands of her angst-clad husband or family in films or sometimes the vixen levelling up with the bad bad world. Her screen image was long due for a makeover and Yash Chopra gave it one with Chandni in 1989. Stepping straight out of Yash Chopra’s typical heroine mould, Sridevi delivered a memorable performance as the titular lead who loses her first love and almost gets married to another man before destiny interrupts. Pick any of Sridevi’s films and you’ll see, the veteran always brought out the unnoticeable. Something one would never know could be done when you first read the script. She went out of her way for every role she ever gave birth to, a fact Chopra testified too.
In the book Yash Chopra Fifty Years of Cinema, the filmmaker revealed he had originally intended to cast Rekha as Chandni. He told a British film scholar, "Sridevi says, ‘You do what you want.’ We got a totally new look. Jewellery, hairdo and costume… She is a damn good actress. She puts something extra in her work. I could notice this the first day I started working with her in Chandni. She comes a step further. Never knew what she was doing. She didn’t know language, assistant told her dialogues. But she contributes so much to each dance, emotion. All have something extra." Lamhe, Guru, Chaalbaaz are all a Sridevi show all the way!
In 1992, Mukul Anand got Sridevi and Amitabh Bachchan to share the screen again for Khuda Gawah. The epic drama once again featured the actress in a double role, and needless to mention, she walked away with all the praises! Given her cinematic history, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Sridevi was impotent of giving a dud. It was not in the performer’s capacity to deliver anything less than a blockbuster packed with hard-hitting dialogues and impressive acting chops. No wonder she scaled the heights that she did!
Around the debacle of Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, Madhuri Dixit had entered Bollywood. Sridevi’s next Laadla (1994) and Judaai (1997) were successful, but she still chose to give up the arc lights to focus on her marriage with Boney Kapoor.
A career spanning across three decades was filled with a lull, until Gauri Shinde gave us English Vinglish in 2012. The character of Shashi Godbole echoed with Sridevi’s shy persona. Her last was Ravi Udyawar’s Mom in 2017, wherein she sets out to avenge the rape of her step-daughter. Sridevi posthumously starred in Aanand L. Rai’s Zero starring Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, and Katrina Kaif.
She rarely spoke in the public eye. She always maintained her distance from gossip and conjectures. Be it her alleged affair with Mithun Chakraborty or marriage with Boney Kapoor, Sridevi chose to face it with a dignified silence. She was an obedient student to her director, a spontaneous performer for her producer who got it right in few takes, a thorough professional on the sets and submissive actor who only desired to keep her fans entertained. Beyond it all, she was a hands-on mother and a doting wife.
In an interview with a leading magazine, Sridevi highlighted the lack of education in her life saying, "I was a good student. for a while, my parents did make me cope with school and films simultaneously. When we’d go on outdoor shoots, a teacher would accompany us. But after a point, this wasn’t practical. I had to choose between studies and films. I chose films."
Sridevi has been bestowed upon with several honours. She was awarded a Padma Shri in 2013. Her dance numbers are amongst the popular chartbusters and enjoy a cult status today! Reflecting upon fifty-four years of her life, we can say that she was a No. 1 in every role she played – an actor, a performer, a dancer, a superstar, a wife and also a mother. She always knew where to draw a line and where to push boundaries. A rareity we haven’t seen in anyone, but our beloved Chandni.
On her first death anniversary, we cherish all the beautiful lamhe, and remember the icon with great love and respect.