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Remembering Sridevi, the outsider who ruled Bollywood

ThePrint looks back at the female superstar who matched Bollywood heroes step for step.

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New Delhi: Indian film legend Sridevi’s death at age 54 on 24 February 2018 left many shattered, and saw an unprecedented outpouring of grief.

She was among the few film figures who were honoured with a state funeral, as fans flocked to Mumbai to catch a final glimpse of their superstar.

Sridevi, with 300 films to her credit, managed to topple the dynamics of the industry by positioning herself as an actor who did not need a male co-star to boost her career.

The southern star

Born on 13 August, 1963 in Tamil Nadu, Sridevi was fluent in not just her mother tongue Telugu but also Tamil.

The actor had told senior journalist Vir Sanghvi in a 2017 interview that she missed out on her school and college life because she was absorbed in films.

Sridevi was only four when was cast in her first film Kandhan Karunai (1967).

At 13, the actor starred opposite Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan as their love interest in Moondru Mudichu, and went on to do many films with them. Long before she ruled Bollywood, Sridevi had gained stardom in the South.

Bombay dreams

Her first Hindi film Rani Mere Naam saw her as a child actor. Sridevi also shared during her interview with Sanghvi that she never intended to enter Bollywood. When her third Hindi film Solva Sawan co-starring Amol Palekar didn’t do well, Sridevi wasn’t sure of doing more Hindi films.

Sridevi and Kamal Haasan in a still from Sadma | @NFAIOfficial?Twitter
Sridevi and Kamal Haasan in a still from Sadma | @NFAIOfficial?Twitter

But Sadma (1983) with Kamal Haasan — the Hindi remake of their Tamil film — changed her fortunes. Sridevi earned critical acclaim for playing an amnesic woman who — once she recovers — fails to recognise the man who falls in love with her after rescuing her from a brothel.

Then came Himmatwala from a starkly different genre — the formula film brought out her versatility. The songsNaino Mein Sapna’ and Taki O Taki introduced Bollywood to Sridevi’s incredible dancing skills.

Also read: Zeenat Aman, diva who dared Bollywood conventions on screen but believed in them off it

The heroine who didn’t need a hero

Sridevi was one of the highest paid actors of her time and also, many claim, the tallest. She aced many genres and films with serious dark themes, besides comedy and romance.

The actor, also a Padma Shri recipient, captivated viewers with her deeply expressive eyes and powerful dance numbers.

People remember her for movies like Chandni (1989), a critical and box office success that saw Sridevi romance Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor.

Sridevi and Rajinikanth in a still from Chaalbaaz | @NFAIOfficial/Twitter
Sridevi and Rajinikanth in a still from Chaalbaaz | @NFAIOfficial/Twitter

Chaalbaaz — which released the same year — had Sridevi playing twin sisters who are polar opposites, and co-starred Sunny Deol and Rajinikanth. The song ‘Na Jaane Kahaan Se Aayi Hai’ from the film was a super success. Her films with brother-in-law and actor Anil Kapoor, Mr. India (1987), Lamhe (1991), Laadla (1994), and Judaai (1997) left both fans and critics wonderstruck — because of her performance and their chemistry as an on-screen couple.

Mr. India, though, has gone down as one of the most recounted, cited, remembered and appreciated films of Sridevi. The film, which garnered a cult following for a number of reasons, also had Sridevi’s iconic song Hawa Hawai.

Sridevi mimicking Charlie Chaplin in Mr. India | @NFAIOfficial/Twitter
Sridevi mimicking Charlie Chaplin in Mr. India | @NFAIOfficial/Twitter

Her hilarious Charlie Chaplin act in Mr. India was equally entertaining. In fact, the movie’s director Shekhar Kapur once challenged any other actor to pull it off the way Sridevi did.

Such is the decades-long imprint of Mr. India that until last year, news of its sequel was doing the rounds.

Also read: Remembering Madhubala, film screen legend who was ‘story of India’ and wanted ‘to live’

Marriage, hiatus, and comeback 

Sridevi and Boney Kapoor tied the knot in 1996. It was Boney Kapoor — then an already married man — who relentlessly pursued her even before he signed her for Mr. India. Such was his admiration that he offered her Rs 11 lakh for the role even though her mom had quoted Rs 10 lakh as the fee.

After their marriage, Sridevi went on a hiatus for 15 years, devoting her time to her family — her husband and daughters Janhvi and Khushi.

While promoting her film English Vinglish, she told Canadian talk show host George Stroumboulopoulos that she did not believe in balancing work and personal commitments.

For her last film Mom (2017), she was posthumously awarded Best Actor at the National Film Awards.

Fans also saw her in Shah Rukh Khan’s recent film Zero, in a cameo.

Also read: Parveen Babi put sex-appeal in 1970s Bollywood, but constantly fought mental health issues

The star who let her work speak

Electrifying as her presence was in front of the camera, it is widely known that Sridevi was extremely reserved and enjoyed her privacy.

She had told Sanghvi in the interview, “I thought your work should speak more than you talking.” Sridevi also said that during the promotion of Solva Sawan, it was nothing short of a ‘nightmare’ for her to see so many reporters.

The same actor had told Scroll in a later interview that she believed in moving with the times.

She died in Dubai on 24 February 2018.

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