Sridevi’s searing talent forced directors to write meatier roles for the heroine: Swara Bhaskar
To me, Sridevi’s greatness did not lie in her beauty, or her dancing skills, or even in her great performances. It lay in the fact that Sridevi rose to become India’s first female superstar in overwhelmingly male, and male-dominated industries and work spaces.Updated: Feb 26, 2018 07:30 IST
If you were a product of the late 80s and early 90s, admiration of Sridevi was not a matter of conscious choice, it was more a cultural habit.
The wide-eyed days of our childhood were populated with the image of her face. We saw posters with her alluring gaze smiling at us each time we looked right or left at the back panels of auto rickshaws, her magnetic presence and fiery dancing captivated us as we tuned into Chitrahaar on Doordarshan.
The devastating news of Sridevi ji’s sudden demise arrived like all terrible news comes — simply. A WhatsApp message at 2:34am — “Sridevi is no more” — I desperately hoped that it was a hoax, a sick joke, or some terrible misunderstanding. I never considered myself a Sridevi fan. I never thought I would be so shocked and saddened by her passing. I’d met her only once at a Diwali party just last year. I was struck that this first female superstar of Indian cinema was sitting quietly in a corner of a glittering filmy party. I went up and introduced myself and said I had grown up watching her films and it was an honour to meet her in person. It turned out that the bigger honour was that she had seen one of my films and appreciated my work. I sprouted wings and floated out of that party smiling.
I have worked with a lot of people who had worked with Sridevi ji in various capacities. Never once have I heard anything but the highest praise for her professionalism, hard work, talent and artistic integrity. As an artiste who faced the film camera first when she was four years old, Sridevi had a five-decade-long love affair with the camera. Everyone spoke about how the normally shy and reserved Sridevi was a changed person as soon as the camera began rolling.
Sometimes the true stature of a public personality is revealed once we lose them. As I watch fans, colleagues, members of the film fraternity, even bickering politicians, unite in mourning and grieving the loss of one of India’s tallest film personalities, it strikes me as telling that there is such a national outpouring of grief and love for an actor who had only just returned to the silver screen from a 15-year hiatus. To me, Sridevi’s greatness did not lie in her beauty, or her dancing skills, or even in her great performances. It lay in the fact that Sridevi rose to become India’s first female superstar in overwhelmingly male, and male-dominated industries and work spaces.
Her greatness lay in the fact that she was able to shine with the sheer mettle of her performance in films that were so clearly written for male stars. Her greatness lay in the fact that in 1989; at a time when (generally speaking) the hero-dominated-action-formula film — which relegated heroines to five dance numbers and some romantic scenes and helpless screaming in the climax was the staple product of ‘Bollywood’ — Sridevi carried almost totally on her shoulders a commercial entertainer, Chalbaaz, all the way to smashing box-office success.
Sridevi’s searing talent almost forced commercial directors and producers to write meatier and more meaningful or performance-oriented roles for the heroine. Sridevi seemingly snatched superstardom from a society that had until then not conceived consciously that there could be a female superstar. Goodbye Sridevi ji, we were never able to honour and laud your greatness and calibre enough because we never expected you to be gone so soon. But you will live in our hearts, like you have these past five decades.