the person in front of you with the mental image of the superstar etched in your mind from some 15 years ago. That was when, to everyone’s surprise, she said cheerio to the seductively glamourous world of Bollywood to concentrate on her personal life — her roles of a wife and a mother. It’s only fitting then that her ‘comeback’ (she hates the word) should be with a film that highlights exactly those roles.
Sridevi, the Hawa Hawai girl might be making a comeback post 14 years, but her charismatic screen presence continues to mesmerise. In English Vinglish, she plays a housewife who's struggling to learn English.
Are there changes? Of course there are. This is an older, more mature, and conspicuously more content person. She is 49, but doesn’t look it. You can tell a lot of work has gone into how she looks. So we ask her how she maintains herself. And the conversation that ensues is hilarious.
What do you do to look the way you do?
Sridevi walks the ramp at DCW
Balki: She only eats broccoli. She eats it in all forms. But she eats only broccoli, and given a chance, she’ll make everyone else also eat just that (laughs).
Sridevi: Yes, everyone in my family says that soon I’ll become a goat (laughs). I won’t talk, I’ll just go ‘Meeeh’ (makes a bleating noise).
Balki: Gauri (Shinde, his wife and the director of English Vinglish) is a fitness freak too; she is very picky about what she eats. But she herself is scared of Sri. She doesn’t want to look like the ‘non-fit’ person in front of her. We were at the Delhi airport yesterday, and Gauri ordered a plate of chana bhatura. When she saw her (Sridevi) approaching, she shoved it towards me and begged me to pretend I was eating it. (laughs)
In all your recent interviews, you’ve cited your discomfort with the publicity associated with films nowadays. Has it been daunting?
Sridevi: Absolutely! It was never like this earlier. We would do a few magazine interviews and once the film finished, we were back home. Now, the promotions are more taxing than shooting the film. But I’m starting to get used to it.
How has the shooting process changed?
Sri: It’s more organised. There are different people taking care of different things. It’s more professional. And the vanity vans are more comfortable (laughs)… You have sync sound, so you don’t have to dub.
The reviews have been good.
Sri: Yes, they are positive and they give me confidence. Now I’ll do more films depending on how much more the audience wants to see of me (laughs), but I’ll only sign something that instantly excites me. And that includes south Indian films.
What made you work in English Vinglish?
Sri: The script appealed to me. As a mother and a wife, I could relate to it. I would’ve done it at any given time, even five or 10 years ago.
What inspired the movie?
Gauri Shinde: My mother. She struggled with English. I thought it was a very interesting emotion to capture. But it’s not purely her story. There’s a lot of fiction. For instance, my mother’s very upset that she hasn’t met a French guy yet (laughs).
Balki: The film, besides English and all that, is about respecting others. A lot of films today deal with the concept of love and love triangles. But there are no respect triangles, when actually respect is far more important. The film is about a person wanting respect. And a lot of people would do anything for it.
Sridevi comes across as a very shy person, but she transforms in front of the camera. How did she come to be a part of the film?
GS: I’m lucky I know both sides of her (laughs). I’m privy to the off-camera Sridevi. She wasn’t planning a comeback, and I didn’t think she would do it, because she had gone underground for 15 years. Balki met Boney (Kapoor, producer and Sridevi’s husband) and Sri happened to be there. Balki mentioned that I was making a film. And so she enquired what it was about. He gave her a two-line synopsis and she said it was interesting. Then I narrated the script and she loved it.
Was that a time when you were thinking that if a good script came along, you’d take it?
Sri: No, nothing like that.
Balki: Whether she was thinking about it or not, I was the one who wanted to make a film with her. But then she heard Gauri’s script and loved it. I was very upset! (laughs).
Sri: I quickly grabbed Gauri’s script.
So, you still plan to make a film with Sri?
Balki: Of course!
Sri: Whether he does or not, I definitely want to.
GS: Not with me?
Sri: With both of you.
GS: We’re fighting over her (laughs).
Would you work in a film produced by Boney (Kapoor)?
Sri: Of course! In the past I’ve worked with him. He’s a great producer.
We heard that Boney narrated a script to you before English Vinglish but you didn’t like it.
Sri: No, no. This is a new story I’m hearing.
A lot of old movies are getting remade now. Would you like to see any of your films remade?
Sri: Why would I want those films to be made again? I don’t think I’ll be interested in watching them.
Do you think people in small-towns would watch this film?
GS: I think, if a story excites you, you go with the belief that a few hundred people will also be excited by it. And you wish that more people like it. When you have an idea, you bounce it off other people as well and ask them what they like about it. Then you just go with your gut feeling.
Balki: I’m an ad filmmaker. And till date, I’ve never done an ad keeping the target audience in mind. You’re not a superhuman machine to understand someone’s brain. You know only one person: yourself.
Not all woman-centric films have done well in Bollywood. Is there any fear?
Balki: A woman-centric film with Sridevi is more male-centric than any other film (laughs). Having said that, the industry today is story and entertainment dominated.
Balki, you’re the producer of the film and you’ve directed movies in the past. It’s natural for you to want to have a say in matters. Was it easy for you to draw a line?
Balki: It’s a very dangerous question, because I will have to expose the truth. I never had the option to say much. She (Gauri) would ask me something and when I would give her my opinion, there were high chances she would do the exact opposite.
GS: But that would give me the confidence that what I thought was right.
Sri: I was torn between the two, wondering which way to go.
Balki: The person who has written it, always has a better idea. She knows her craft well.
Sri, what did your family think of the film?
Sri: My daughters and husband loved it.
GS: I’ve seen Boney watch the film twice, and both times there were tears rolling down his face.
Balki: Boney told me that it was worth being production managers on this film. This, in spite of him not being directly associated with it. We had a ball working together. Gauri and I got to know them both (Sridevi and Boney) very closely.
Balki, were you always a Sridevi fan?
Balki: I’ve been a huge fan of hers. I still am.
What are your favourite movies of Sri?
Balki: There’s a Tamil film called Johnny (1980) she did with Rajinikanth. Her comic timing is excellent. Then there’s Khuda Gawah (1992) with Amitji. There’s a Telugu film called Kshana Kshanam (1991). The list is never ending. I’ve seen most of her films except two or three white shirt, white pants, white shoes types (laughs).
There were talks that you wanted to make a movie starring Sridevi and Amitabh Bachchan. Is this true?
Balki: I would love to, but I have no story; somebody else seems to have it. If I do get the story, I would be the luckiest guy.
What do you think of today’s heroines?
Sri: They’re all good and hardworking.
Balki: She’ll take a lot of names and say everyone’s better than her. But there can be no other Sridevi.
Kareena Kapoor has said often that you were her inspiration
Sri: That’s really sweet of her. She’s one of my favourite actors. I loved her in Jab We Met (2007).
Any of your previous heroes you’d like to be paired with again?
Sri: I’ve enjoyed working with all my heroes. And I would love to work with Amitji again. It’s such an honour. Even Anilji (Kapoor).
The first teaser had Sridevi reading the censor board certificate. It looked like an adman’s idea.
Balki: We were all sitting together and it just came up. No one has ever used it before. I must compliment the censor board for agreeing. They co-operated a lot and helped us phenomenally.
Transcribed by Shalvi Mangaokar and Amrutha Penumudi