Padma Shri Sri Devi : The golden swan of Indian cinema

Padma Shri Sri Devi : The golden swan of Indian cinema

26-02-2018 07:21 AM Bharath Kvt

Veteran actor Sridevi, who had an illustrious career spanning over four decades, passed away in Dubai. She was 55.According to the family sources, the actor, wife of producer Boney Kapoor, reportedly died due to cardiac arrest late in the night in Dubai, where she had gone along with her family to attend her nephew Mohit Marwah’s wedding.

Sridevi was born in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu on August 13, 1963. She began acting at the age of four in 1969 film Thunaivan. Malayalam film Poompattawon her a Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Artist in 1971. She also co-starred with late actress-politician Jayalalithaa in three films, including Adi Parashakti. In 1975, a year before Sridevi made her debut as a leading lady, she appeared in her first Hindi film, Julie, playing the sister of the heroine.

1976’s Moondru Mudichu, opposite Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, was Sridevi’s first lead role. She would go on to co-star with the two actors in several films, both Tamil and Hindi. Her best-known Bollywood collaborations with them are Chaal Baaz with Rajinikanth and Sadma with Kamal Haasan.

Sridevi’s extensive filmography contains as many outings in Bollywood as it does down South. Her breakout film was 1983’s Himmatwala, opposite Jeetendra, remembered for the song Nainon Mein Sapna. She went from strength to strength in the Hindi film industry, starring in memorable films such as Nagina and its sequel Nigahen. Her scene-stealing turn in Mr India included the iconic song Hawa Hawaii. The films Chandni and Lamhe helped Sridevi become the definitive ‘Yash Raj heroine.’

What the gossip did not say was how, or if, her life mirrored the Sridevi who existed simultaneously in those movies; the buffoon, the warrior, the goddess. Her comic persona is still astonishing for its sheer fluidity. An upturned eyebrow, a curl of the lip, and her perfect doll-face, with its wobbling underlip and unshed tears, would transform itself into a clown mask. Her physical comedy is an early and superior iteration of the “clumsy girl” stereotype that so many beautiful female actors and characters are endowed with today, where the klutziness is an apology for the beauty. Sridevi’s is a knowing clumsiness, a trick up the sleeve of a woman whose eyes have always recalled Homeric similes. That very breathy little-girl voice would get on your last nerve—but once she was through with hoodwinking her phalanx of creditors in Chaalbaaz, she would use it to tell them, “Ok! Tata! Bye bye, chee you, sayonara!

Sridevi worked in times when it was common for actors to work three shifts a day: the more famous the star, the more sets she was on, playing two or three different characters in five or six different sets of costumes. She worked so much that she often played more than one character on the same set. Which Hindi movie star has essayed more double roles? She did Gurudev, Banjaran, Khuda Gawah, Lamhe, Chaalbaaz and Guru, the last two in the same year. She played her own daughter in the hallucinogenic Nigahen, a sequel to Nagina. She personified the divided self: both queen and chattel, terrorized and terrorizing, mute and hyper-loquacious.

After marrying producer Boney Kapoor, Sridevi took a break of many years – her last starring role before the hiatus was Meri Biwi Ka Jawaab Nahin with Akshay Kumar, which was filmed in 1994 but released in 2004 - before making what the film industry calls a comeback. 2012’s acclaimed English Vinglish was the comeback of comebacks and Sridevi worked steadily ever since, appearing in Tamil film Puli and last year’s MOM. She will be seen posthumously in a special appearance this year in Shah Rukh Khan's film Zero.

We think movie stars become great because they linger in our memories, but making icons involves a great deal of forgetting. Sridevi made 264 films over 45 years (that we know of), and we will never watch anything approaching the majority of them again. But charisma is a resilient thing, and hers always had powerful transitive properties. She starred in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films, and at the height of her superstardom in the Madras industry, came to Bombay and became a superstar again.

Sridevi received the Padma Shri and won several Filmfare awards. She is survived by husband Boney Kapoor and her two daughters, Janhvi and Khushi.The more I watch Hawa Hawaii, the more I want to re-watch it. But it’s hard for me to do so now without feeling despair at the sight of her, so singular and gleaming, the product of an industry which exploited its women with utter rapacity, and then, by putting them on screen to make them unforgettable, contrived a gigantic act of forgetting.


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