It’s finally sinking in that Sridevi is no more. After initial couple of days of insanity, sobriety eventually prevailed over her unfortunate and untimely death. The whole of India grieved, more so, Bollywood. It shunned the usual raucous Holi revelry this time in respect of the departed soul. It would appear from the many touching tributes from her Bollywood colleagues, the moving eulogies in the media and the overall grief in the streets of Mumbai that she belonged entirely to Bollywood. But for South Indians in general and Tamilians in particular, the feeling is different. As a Tamilian living in Mumbai presently, frankly I was taken in by surprise at the mass adulation one saw in the streets of Mumbai since Sridevi’s death. May be I missed, I didn’t see this even for Rajesh Khanna, arguably India’s 1st Superstar!
Long before she mouthed her 1st dialogue in a Hindi film, Sridevi had already a few Tamil films as a child artist and many more super hits as a heroine. Though many of these films were with big stars of the day like Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Siva Kumar and the like, she held her known through her acting skills and not just by appearing as a glamour doll dancing and prancing around trees or in garish sets filled with pots of different hues and sizes. Not surprisingly, top directors in Tamil cinema of that period (70’s & 80’s) like K.Balachandar, Bharathiraja, Mahendran and Balu Mahendra all knocked at her door when they had to cast for a “material” role. And she didn’t at all disappoint.
While she acted as the heroine with the then reigning young star Kamal and the upstart Rajini fairly regularly, her pairing with Kamal was the most talked about. In fact, Sridevi’s pairing with Kamal was used to explain what chemistry is all about. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that in the middle class neighbourhood of mine in Trichy those days, folks hoped and wished that Kamal would marry Sridevi in real life! So, around 1978, when the news of Kamal marrying Vani Ganapathi came and pictures of their wedding got splashed in Tamil magazines, there was a sense of disappointment all around.
Far removed from such feelings Sridevi though, pursued her acting career with single minded focus. Kamal and her continued to enthrall the audience with memorable performances together in outings like Guru, Varumayin Niram Sivappu, Meendum Kokila, Vaazhve Maayam and finally Moondram Pirai – all super-duper hits in that era. In fact for Moondram Pirai, Kamal won his 1st National Award for acting while the audience in unison felt that Sridevi deserved it more for her portrayal as a young girl suffering from temporary amnesia. Chuppiramani became the most popular name for pets those days – by the way Sridevi’s character in the film used to call her pet dog!
For the South Indian audience, Sridevi of that era epitomized the typical girl next door with simple looks who can pull off any role with elan. Though she did act in a few masala pot boilers and some extremely forgettable ones in that, Sridevi was this super talented female actor who could carry a film on her own if required. Sridevi was the eternal dream girl, “the Mayilu” for all alike – boys and girls, men and women.
As South Indians, we all rue the 2nd half of the 80’s decade as, that was when we lost “Sridevi, the performer” in the south to “Sridevi, the Star” in Bollywood! In fact, when she acted along with Rajini in a forgettable film titled Naan Adimai Illai in 1987, she was making a mini comeback into Tamil films this time in a glam star avatar. The film bombed at the box office and we didn’t get to see Sridevi for a long while in Tamil after that.
Since her first mega hit in Hindi – Himmatwala in 1983, she acted in many Hindi films till the late 90’s. And frankly it’s difficult to count the silver jubilee hits among them. This was the period when she established herself as a bankable star in Bollywood. In much of these movies, she sang and danced with energy, acted sometimes, over acted most of the times and played the coquettish act to perfection. This was also the time her physical looks transformed from being a girl next door to the Diva! I have seen many of the Hindi films in this period like Chandni, Lamhe, Khuda Gawah,… which have been acclaimed for Sridevi’s performances. However, I must say that this Sridevi paled in comparison to the Sridevi we were used to seeing in Tamil films. The subtlety in Johnny, the beauty in Priya, the spontaneity in Moondram Pirai of the Sridevi we knew in Tamil were sadly missed in Bollywood.
Till English Vinglish happened in 2012. Hats off to Gauri Shinde, the director for bringing Sridevi back from the wilderness for this role. I doubt if anybody else in Bollywood would have done that role of a multi layered mother as well as Sridevi. For us, it was like getting “Our” Sridevi back though in a Hindi film! And the yearning was for more and more.
Ergo, her sudden death at this time comes as a rude shock. May be I’m biased. But Bollywood did limited justice to Sridevi’s talent. In the context of Bollywood, I can only recall these lines from the famous song from Sridevi’s Tamil movie – Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu – “Sippi irukuthu, muthum irukuthu, thiranthu paarka neramilladi, rajaathi,…”! (Shells are there, Pearls are there, but no time to open and see,..)
May the eternal Mayilu Rest In Peace”!