Why we loved Sridevi

The actress’ pan-India appeal was largely due to her performances in some of the biggest Hindi film hits.

 |  4-minute read |   28-02-2018
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Death is inevitable. Yet, when we lose someone we personally know or simply admire from a distance, accepting the person’s sudden absence is hardly easy. Sridevi, merely 54, passed away due to allegedly “drowning accidentally” in a hotel bathtub in Dubai. Such was her impact on Indian cinema that her fans have been shaken up thoroughly. Struck by disbelief and shock, they are struggling to accept that the actress has left them forever.

Star power

Having started out as a child star in Thunaivan in 1969, Sridevi’s first leading role was in K Balachander’s Moondru Mudichu (1976) in which she starred opposite Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, the two superstars of the South. With the passage of time, she not only reigned down South but also rose to become one of the biggest female stars of Hindi cinema.

In spite of working in an industry where male leads were traditionally dominant, she, with her twin gifts of spontaneity and versatility, colonised the limelight with her performances quite often. Her range as a performer was nothing short of immense, her expressive eyes and body language enabling her to tackle the challenges in acting with complete ease.

Chaalbaaz (1989) was a classic example of the way in which she could eclipse her co-stars. She played a double role: one of the characters being gentle and docile, but the other, bossy and tomboyish. The film had several impossibly unrealistic sequences, but Sridevi made us believe in what we saw and turned it into a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Most actors are at their best while operating within their respective comfort zones. However, Sridevi was different. She explored many different zones, and showed her comfort level wherever she went. If Chaalbaaz was an example of how she could go overboard and delight the audiences, Sadma (1983) was a nuanced classic directed by Balu Mahendra.

Cast opposite Kamal Haasan, she played a character suffering from retrograde amnesia — and excelled in the role. Her filmography features several fine performances, and her act in Sadma is certainly one of her best. In retrospect, there might be some merit in the thought that she should have acted in more such films.

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Pan-India appeal

The actress’s pan-India appeal was largely due to her performances in some of the biggest Hindi film hits of the period in which she was constantly active. In Mr India (1987), a fantasy, she played Seema, a journalist who lands up in situations and events that save the nation from Mogambo, the villain made famous by Amrish Puri. The film did not belong to her; yet, which film-lover can forget her performance, which includes the way she lit up the screen in the song ‘Katey nahi kat tey’? Nobody.

The Sridevi story encompasses four decades, a very long period for someone who passed away before turning 55. It includes a phase in which she acted opposite Jeetendra in 16 films between 1983 and 1988. Among them was Himmatwala, possibly the most popular release that had her performing to the song ‘Naino Main Sapna’, a rage of the period. Thirteen out of the 16 films the duo starred in made the cash counters clink. In an industry where success is not easy to find, the manner in which their films hit the bull’s eye had few other comparable instances.

Special appearance

That Lamhe (1991) failed to impress the audiences was her bad luck. A classic, it had Sridevi in another double role. One of her characters was of an already engaged woman, the other of an orphaned daughter. As the latter, the actress was at her best. Had Lamhe been released in today’s relatively liberal times, it would have been acknowledged with a much better response. Back then, however, it was a different story.

If her star power was on display in hard-core commercial films like Nagina (1986) and Chandni (1989), so were her skills as a natural performer. These qualities resurfaced when she returned with English Vinglish in 2012 after a long hiatus of 15 years. Playing a simple middle-class woman who needs to learn English to gain respect in her family, she not only made the critics sit up and take notice of her but also delivered a decent commercial success. Clearly, her fans had not forgotten her.

Cinema preserves images for eternity. Now, perhaps, is the time to revisit her films to experience the range of work she has left behind all over again. We will also see her posthumously in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero. She will be seen in a special appearance, much like the one she made in our lives.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Writer

Biswadeep Ghosh Biswadeep Ghosh @biswadeepg

The writer is a freelance writer. He is the author of MSD: The man, the leader

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