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Childhood’s end

To a generation of kids, Sridevi was an icon of authenticity, not perfection

brunch Updated: Mar 03, 2018 22:58 IST
Rehana Munir
Sridevi is still our shorthand for a mass of memories, dreams and desires
Sridevi is still our shorthand for a mass of memories, dreams and desires(File photo)

There is nothing to compare this feeling with. The realisation that Sridevi is gone is intercut with flashbacks of a childhood spent growing up in middle-class Bombay. Concepts like archetypes and feminism were in the distant future. At that point, there was a grubby movie theatre – an early version of the multiplex – that still stands across the railway line. Gaiety, Galaxy, Gemini in Bandra was where I got my fix of Sridevi, long before VHS and cable TV had become a part of life. Two hot samosas, one chococone and a Sridevi movie were the height of luxury. For days, weeks, years after the first viewing, we sisters and cousins would dissect every smile and dance move, peppering conversation with words such as “Ballllma” and “Benazir”. Sridevi is still our shorthand for a mass of memories, dreams and desires. She’s still our go-to girl for a lift-me-up. In chronological order, here’s why.

Mr. India (1987)

Sridevi and Anil Kapoor in Mr. India

The film is full of memorable characters and dialogues. From the monstrous Mogambo to the endearing Calendar, it’s a children’s classic in the truest sense. But why does it still stand out, when we’ve long outgrown our frocks and freckles? Psychonalyst Adam Phillips says we are children for a very long time. The child in me is still fed by those pastries Seema brings to Arun’s orphanage. Sri says: “Pastries?” The kids are apprehensive. Anil gives them the go-ahead. This scene should go under ‘emotional sustenance’ in the encyclopedia of children’s cinema.

ChaalBaaz (1989)

If Mr. India was sustenance, ChaalBaaz was comeuppance. The whip-wielding Manju avenging the injustices against her meek twin Anju. Sridevi didn’t need a man to right her wrongs. She managed to make Bharatnatyam in a salwar kameez appear transgressive. A drunken, rain-soaked, beer-swilling midnight dance seem regular. ChaalBaaz, indeed. Badi chhoti hai mulaaqat, bade afsos ki hai baat. Kissi ke haath na aayegi yeh ladki.

Lamhe (1991)

Sri’s first Yash Chopra outing Chaandni was refreshing but formulaic. Lamhe was a surprise. That moment when Pooja is slapped by her childhood hero, Kunwarji (Anil Kapoor), was a landmark moment for so many young girls fed on images and storylines of women passively receiving slaps and taunts. In this film, she breaks into what we fan girls called the ‘black dance’, in an attitude and attire befitting the mood. Contemporary dance moves marked by great emotion: anger, hurt, disappointment. A woman who dances alone when she’s raging. Not for applause but catharsis. Clap clap clap.

Khuda Gawah (1992)

Sridevi and Amitabh Bachchan in Khuda Gawah

It’s not the best film for a history or geography lesson. But when it comes to grandeur of setting and emotion, this one is still Subhanallah. Even in the distinctly unrealistic world of the movie, you’re moved by Benazir, the beautiful, lamenting the absence of her husband, the Afghan chieftain Badshah Khan. “Woh aayega” – the refrain of a woman beside herself with grief - was the heartbeat of the film. Benazir’s exuberant daughter, Mehendi, car-racer and Nagarjuna-romancer, is the opposite of her poised mother. If they didn’t look so similar, you wouldn’t have guessed it’s the same actor playing both roles.

English Vinglish (2012)

When Sridevi returned to Bollywood after a 15-year-long hiatus, we all held our breaths. Times had changed several times over since she left to raise a family. Would this be a happy homecoming or awkward nostalgia trip? Luckily for us, the film was a treat. Sri was back, in block-printed cottons and broken English. Doing everyday things like making tea, struggling with travel and basking in the attention of a man who is not her husband. What a thing!

The Sridevi who taught us how to dream was now giving us life lessons. But not in a preachy, moralistic way. Like a real person fumbling through life and coming up with her own insights.

One can only guess at what her journey, begun at age four, would have been like, the struggles and setbacks. And she was famously reticent about her personal life in public. But what I can say with confidence is that she showed a generation of young girls (and undoubtedly many boys) they could be several things at once – funny, brave, soft, strong, flawed – a privilege only our industry’s heroes have traditionally enjoyed. Goodbye, Sri. In your roles, you chased authenticity, not perfection. Thanks to you, we’ll always find beauty in naughty eyes, a crooked smile and shaky voice.

From HT Brunch, March 4, 2018

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