ollywood and legions of fans initially reacted with shock and then with grief to the news of legendary actress Sridevi’s passing.
The actress, who was 54, died of a cardiac arrest in Dubai late on Saturday, 24 February, where she was to attend her nephew Mohit Marwah’s wedding.
Considered by many as the first female superstar of Hindi cinema, Sridevi was an actor-par-excellence whose versatility remains unmatched. From comedies to romance to tragedies, Sridevi did it all with élan.
In ‘Moondru Mudichu’ – one of the only two films starring Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth and Sridevi together – the iconic actress essayed the role of a helpless young woman who escapes the advances of a man she dislikes by marrying the father of the man. She had already started her career as a child artiste seven years ago in 1969 with ‘Thunaivan’ but it was the 1976 Tamil film which marked the arrival of Sridevi as a powerhouse performer. She followed it up the very next year with the cult ’16 Vayathinile’, again opposite Haasan and Rajinikanth.
Of course, if an actress can hold her own in not one but two films starring two of the greatest actors in the history of Indian cinema, you cannot but applaud the talent of the lady. And it is this talent which took Sridevi to superstardom, and eventually into the hearts of the fans.
It is impossible to pinpoint what exactly the fans liked in Sridevi. Was it the versatility of her acting or was it her dancing skills – in which she excelled? Was it the docile behaviour the fans saw in some of her roles or was it the strong-willed woman she portrayed so effortlessly in others? Was it the innocence of her magnetic smile or was it the cherubic giggle that she often broke into both on- and off-screen? Was it her voice, which sounded like a sweet musical note of a xylophone, or was it the eyes with which she expressed a million emotions? Was it her fashion sense, which was copied by an entire generation of girls and actress who built their careers modelling themselves on her, or was it the simplicity with which she carried herself off-screen? Or was it all of that?
Perhaps this impossibility of pin-pointing the exact reason for which to appreciate Sridevi – who was all of that – is what makes her India’s first female superstar.
What is certain is that legions of fans, especially women, from the 80s through the 90s and now in the second decade of the 21st century love her, adore her, respect her, and look at her as their idol. And that is what can be called Sridevi’s greatest power – she captivated everyone without making an effort.
She made us dance with her in “Hawa Hawayi”, love her with “Chandni”, feel her pain with “Tu Mujhe Kabool” and sing along with her in “Na Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai”. We can go on listing the songs which she brought to life and etched them into our memories.
And that huge body of work she has left behind is for posterity. We have in them gems such as ‘Himmatwala’, ‘Nagina’ and its sequel, ‘Mr. India’ – in which she played a crime reporter, ‘ChaalBaaz’, ‘Lamhe’, ‘Khuda Gawah’ and ‘Judaai’. All of these movies cemented her hold over the audiences and the industry for close to two decades before she took a prolonged hiatus in 1997.
But what makes someone an idol for a massive industry such as Bollywood is perhaps the masterful ability to deliver a stellar performance on any day. ‘English Vinglish’ and ‘Mom’, which released in 2012 and 2017, respectively, are testimonies to the ‘superstar’ label with which India identifies Sridevi.
But to this fan, perhaps Sridevi’s greatest performance was 1983’s ‘Sadma’ (and its Tamil version ‘Moondram Pirai’), where she essayed the role of a child trapped in the body of an adult woman suffering from retrograde amnesia. Anyone who has seen the film will feel a full range of emotions for Sridevi’s character – sympathy for the childlike one for most part and shock for the cold-like one towards the end, which itself presents the uncertainty of life in a poetic way.