(This blog is the second and last part of my eulogy on Sridevi who died in February. Before beginning to read the sequel, I suggest reading the first part here.)
In the previous blog, I gave tribute to Sridevi by highlighting some of her memorable roles/films. In this part, I am writing some segments about her prominence and recognition towards a successful career. I am focusing on some of the factors which made Sridevi one of the greatest stars ever produced in India. What makes us remember her for ages? I will do my best to give my observation a fair justice to her name and legacy.
ACTRESS ACCEPTED WITH HUMOUR
Generally, when it comes to comedy, you do not expect from women to take that stand as comedy has been widely a man’s profession from the black and white era till now. Notably, in the Indian cinema whose history now stretches to over a century, the comedian remains the comedian all his/her life and doesn’t take the centre stage to lead the film. The concept of hero/heroine in Indian cinema among the leading actors has been running for decades where the man is the lover, the fighter, and may add humour in some portion of his role but the Indian cinematic culture is so that it will be very odd to see the leading lady with the comic recipe.
Some actresses did pull a comic show in their careers but that was to a limit. The leading actresses would prefer to stay as the heroine of her hero in the entire film, dance with him, sing and romanticize the script. The humour part was for the supporting actors both male and female who may play a role in bringing the lovebirds closer. Anyhow, most of the scripts didn’t encourage the leading actress to be funny.
Sridevi is someone whose slapsticks went recognized and acceptable to the audience. The best examples are Chaalbaaz and Mr India. In the latter, Sridevi pulled a famous Charlie Chaplin sequence of almost eight minutes. I am mentally not going to accept if any leading actress could perform comedy that long in those times. She did set the standards among the leading actresses to perform comedy as the lead heroine of the film. The trend continued and was successfully followed by Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Karishma Kapoor.
This is one for the ages. Because there are a very few moments in the Indian cinema when the film topped the box office majorly because of one particular dance number.
Two years before Madhuri’s Ek Do Teen in Tezaab, Sridevi’s Main Teri Dushman in Nagina happened. Both were choreographed by Saroj Khan. Easily one of the most scintillating performances by the leading actress in any video song in any Indian film. Sridevi’s incredible and unparallel performance is the biggest reason why the main cobra theme of the song Main Teri Dushman became a blockbuster hit and is still remembered due to an obvious reason. From comedy to seriousness, Sridevi was a blessed talent. Forget what I wrote above about her comedic timing and performances because this number was completely opposite to the above mentioned.
Sridevi’s facial expressions and the rage on her round face with a display of large scary eyes graced the song. The striking of evil in her behind the closed doors seeks the attention. Her body language in the song cannot be explained, in simple words, there can be no challenge to the other leading actresses to do what she did. Her dancing confidence in the songs was always unmatched but here, she was sensational. Note the moment when she is called. She fixes her eyes on Amrish Puri and looks nowhere. She runs down the stairs in her dance without looking down. This is not so easy. Obviously, a plenty of rehearsals were done before the final shot but then I question to myself, how many takes did she perfect running down the stairs without looking down while dancing.
FILM ICON IN AN UNFAMILIAR LANGUAGE
This point will recognize Sridevi’s legacy that it was constructed on her verbal intuition. This is an undeniable fact that Sridevi was from Tami Nadu and became the icon of the Indian film industry by working in Hindi-language films with a domination which is not the case with many of the leading actors in the Hindi cinema. And Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth cannot be included in this kind of achievement. They did enter Hindi cinema and worked in dozens of films but their legacy is limited to working in the films of non-Hindi language.
Her direct rival was Madhuri Dixit and she was a Maharashtrian. The only leading actress who shared the domination with her in the 80s was Jaya Prada. Sridevi maintained her remarkable stardom in Tamil and Telugu film industries for at least two decades during the period of entering in the Hindi language film industry.
Sridevi’s massive verbal acting struggle was so exhausting that she didn’t dub her voice in the early phase of her Hindi-films career. Yesteryear actress, Kumari Naaz, used to dub in many of her films for a decade. It is cruel that the Hindi voice used on Sridevi in her early career went so badly unrecognized. Rekha famously dubbed Sridevi’s voice in Akhree Raasta. Sridevi dubbed her own voice for the first time in Chandni. Imagine, many many Hindi hit films happened before Chandni.
ACCEPTING CHALLENGING ROLES AT A YOUNG AGE
And when I say young age, I mean it. She was a child artist who began her career at the age of 4. But it was the Malayalam film, Poompatta, where she gave a promising display at the age of 8. That remarkable crying scene stretched to almost a couple of minutes was a proof that she was born to do wonders.
The same year, she gave another top performance in Tamil film, Babu, as the adopted daughter of Shivaji Ganesan. The scene where Shivaji recognizes the untidy girl, that facial and physical performance is almost impossible to expect from an 8-year-old artist.
At 13, Sridevi did the unthinkable. She played the role of the-then 25 yo Rajinikanth’s stepmother.
Sridevi in her early teen was accepting adult roles and sensitive scenes like a molesting sequence in Priya at 15. I really am not aware of how, for an extremely young girl, were such scenes allowed to be performed. In 16 Vayathinile, Sridevi played the central role of a 16-year-old schoolgirl who wishes to become a teacher but her life is stuck between the two lovers. Sridevi was 14 when she played this leading role between Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth. At 18, Sridevi starred in Moondram Pirai and played the role of a girl who suffered retrograde amnesia after a car accident. Convincing to say that Sridevi had built a potential experience to enter the Hindi cinema.
A DEDICATED ACTRESS
Three of her career trivia confirms that she was an example of pure dedication and professional commitment.
Gumrah is the only collaboration of Mahesh Bhatt and Sridevi. And there is no surprise that Mahesh Bhatt did some work on her acting because Sridevi’s mental language and timing were spectacular in the film. But last month, Star Plus released Mahesh Bhatt’s emotional tribute to Sridevi when he was speaking to the contestants of the program, “India’s Next Superstars Ki Paathshaala“.
Mahesh Bhatt explained to the contestants how dedicated Sridevi was. Bhatt informed them that the shooting of Gumrah was in its final phase when they had to shoot a scene in the water which involved Sridevi. Producer Yash Johar confirmed to him that she had a 102 something fever. Bhatt suggested to cancel the shooting that day but Sridevi didn’t accept the suggestion and gave her confirmation that she will give the shot. After sharing this experience, Bhatt broke the news of her death to the contestants.
Lamhe was the second and last collaboration between Yash Chopra and Sridevi. But a tragedy occurred in Sridevi’s life when during the shooting of the film in London, she lost her father. She could have requested a deserving short break from the producer but she displayed nobility of her profession. She flew back to India to pay her final respects to her father and returned to work after only 16 days to shoot a comedy sequence. This was revealed in an interview with Yash Chopra.
Chaalbaaz is a very popular film of the 80s and the biggest reason for the popularity of this film is that one song which became a sensational hit, “Na Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hay“. The song was shot in a studio with artificial rain heavily pouring down. The video of this song itself is 7 minutes of the screen time which is pretty insane by coming to our knowledge that while shooting this song, Sridevi had a fever of 103 degrees. Now I am not aware if Sridevi still had a fever in the released video song but her dedication to the work is admirable that with that fever, she performed and danced in so many takes. It was the magic of ill Sridevi which helped the song gets its share of being an unforgettable track and awarded choreographer Saroj Khan a Filmfare for Best Choreography for this song.
Sridevi was one of the few actresses who collaborated and shared the screen with many notable leading male actors like Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Ashok Kumar, Rajinikanth, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Kamal Haasan, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and a few more.
Famous Indian film director, Shekhar Kapur, confirmed that the sequel of Mr India was on the cards in his emotional tribute on his Instagram account.
Kamal Hassan confirmed in his tribute that he and Sridevi collaborated in a film 27 times together. Kamal-Sridevi pair was the centre of attraction in the Tamil cinema of the 70s.
Ram Gopal Verma, in his extensive tribute on his Facebook notes, made shocking revelations about her disturbed life. He detailed broadly about her sufferings including a tragic death of her father and how her husband helped her in her worst crises.
Sridevi broke in tears while sending a video message to her Pakistani co-stars Adnan Siddiqui and Sajal Ali while the film was premiered in India without them.
Annu Kapoor, in his tribute, spoke the incident in the making of Mr India that when Sridevi’s mother demanded 9 lac rupees for the film, Boney Kapoor responded with the offer of 11 lac rupees.
The latest Academy Award ceremony included Sridevi and Shashi Kapoor in the memorium montage. Sridevi won a posthumous National Award for the Best Actress for Mom.
Sridevi is an art, Sridevi is a charisma. Hindi cinema is incomplete without Sridevi. A leading actress in India will never get that recognition and acceptation like her. Nowadays, a leading actress on her domination in the industry cannot be expected to attempt slapsticks. The culture has changed, the dressing sense in Indian film industry has changed and today’s actress will not wear a saree for a shot. Sadma cannot be repeated, Mr India cannot be repeated. ‘Na Jane Kahan Se Ayi Hai’ cannot bring that magic and if anyone dared to, then the leading actress won’t dance with the fever of 103.
Sridevi is the name of devotion. She is the example of the coming generations of this line of the profession should learn from. Leaving her legacy behind and making millions of her fans miss forever, Sridevi will remain one of the most important wax sculpture of the cinematic museum of India. Thank you, Mr Boney Kapoor, for assisting and supporting her when she needed the most. Thank you, K. Raghavendra Rao, for believing in Sridevi and making her superstar. Your dream of collaborating with her for the 25th time couldn’t meet the destiny but Sridevi accepted the offer in advance by considering it as an honour during Mom’s press meeting in Hyderabad. Thank you late Yash Chopra for gifting us Bollywood’s Chandni.
My words won’t meet a perfect tribute no matter how much I try because your beauty, your essence, your panache, your phenomenon is indescribable.