There are stars and then there are superstars. At the very top of them all sat the First Female Superstar of Bollywood – Sridevi
In 1990 when we were driving home from the movie theatre after watching Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman, my wife remarked that she could predict right then that Julia Roberts would get the Oscar for her role as the freelance hooker with a heart of gold. Responding as if I was a movie guru, I said that brilliant as Roberts’ performance was, I wasn’t so sure about that. However, if Sridevi had done that role, she would definitely have walked away with the Oscar. After all these years, my views remain unchanged.
Unassuming, despite her 13 Awards (six of them Filmfare), 14 Special Honours and hundreds of others received along the way, it is difficult to imagine somebody spending 50 of her 54 years of her life, immersed in the cinematic world. Add to it the fact that Sridevi’s movies covered languages ranging from Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, Kannada to Hindi, the last having come along later almost like a by-product. Sridevi’s recent home production Mom was her 300th movie.
In a recent high profile event, actor Salman Khan was being honoured as the Star of the Millennium. Khan came up to the podium, cleared his throat and said, “Folks, Aamir Khan has done probably 50 films in his career, Shah Rukh about 100 or so and throw mine in that list and combined we will end up with 250-270 max. And then we have among us Sridevi who has alone done 300 films. She truly is bigger than all of us combined.”
Sridevi ruled Bollywood in the 1980s and 1990s. Her name alone was a guarantee for the success of the film and naturally not every producer could afford her. Sadma, Himmatwala, Tohfa, Nagina, Janbaaz, Mr. India, Chaalbaaz, Chandni, Lamhe, Judai and the list of blockbusters goes on. She did 27 films with Kamal Hasan alone and 16 with Jeetendra as male leads. As far as comebacks go, it’s difficult to top her case. After marriage and a long hiatus, she returned with a bang as a leading lady in English Vinglish in 2012. Her title role in Mom last year, as the stepmother who avenges the brutal gang rape of her stepdaughter, turned out to be a spectacular swan song.
Somebody called her the ‘queen of double roles’, as she did plenty of those. Lamhe in 1991 stands out, where she played a role of a mother and daughter who happen to fall in love with the same person. In Mr India her song Hawa Hawaii may have become a household name, but people will remember her for imitation of Charlie Chaplin. I was tempted to rename the movie from Mr. India to Miss India. That was thirty years ago.
Only one song could eclipse her title song of Chandni, and that was another song from the same film Mere haathon mein nau nau choorian hein. No wedding since has been considered complete without this song being played and I doubt whether that would change in the future.
My mother, who passed away in 2015, like many others on the other side of the border, liked Sridevi a lot. One day I asked her what made Sridevi so special. “Do you know of any other current actress who can look so erotic even when she is covered head to toe, dance as she can and then also act as naturally as she does?” That counter question was more than an answer for me
Fans, plunged into grief, are still recovering from the shock of her sudden death. There is also a lot of chatter about what may have triggered her heart attack. Here in the UAE on Feb. 26, today’s newspapers tell me that her body still lies here waiting to be repatriated to India.
I take a deep breath and rewind into time. Leaving her millions of fans behind, Sridevi has left us something profound to reflect upon. We came to this world without being consulted and we will all leave without our own consent. Whatever may be our faith, we must believe in Destiny. Sridevi, you will continue to remain the Ultimate Diva. R.I.P.