Not Chandni, Sridevi will forever be Lakshmi from Devaraagam to me
From Thunaivan in 1969 as a child actor to MOM in 2017, Sridevi ruled the silver screen in Tamil cinema as well as Bollywood. She might be Bollywood’s Chandni, but for me she will remain “Devi… Sridevi…”regional movies Updated: Feb 25, 2018 21:51 IST
A young Sridevi in a sari sits demure on a small rowing boat with Kamal Haasan playing the mouthorgan across her and Rajinikanth manning the oars in the front, facing his two companions. The black-and-white scene from Moondru Mudichu, the 1976 Tamil film directed by K Balachander, is one of my favourites — all for the simple reason that this halcyon boat ride symbolises for me the beginning of a riveting journey three gifted actors would take to stardom. The scene played out in my mind almost as if on loop when I heard of 54-year-old Sridevi’s death from a cardiac arrest in Dubai, where she had gone to attend a nephew’s wedding, on Saturday night.
From Thunaivan in 1969 as a child actor to MOM in 2017, Sridevi ruled the silver screen in Tamil cinema as well as Bollywood. She might be Bollywood’s Chandni, but for me she will remain “Devi… Sridevi…”
She defied the age norms set around woman actors and she transitioned from regional cinema to Bollywood smoothly like a knife to butter. She did not restrict herself to being the quintessential female lead, especially in Tamil cinema, as she got some groundbreaking roles. And she truly was a trailblazer of her generation. I had limited opportunities to watch her on a cinema screen, but television channels airing her films gave me ample occasions to see the powerful actor trapeze from one role into another in the living room of our home with my mother beside me. That’s another reason why every favourite movie and every favourite scene starring Sridevi evoke beautiful memories for me.
I feel melancholic when I hear En Vanile, a song from the film Johnny in which she was cast opposite Rajinikanth. The tug is real, and you are easily pulled into this singer’s life. That used to be the power of Sridevi’s performance. Her skills were so pliable that director could use her for any role, much like clay in the hands of kids, taking shape and form at their bidding. That was a pleasure to watch.
Sadma is another film that everyone speaks of when they speak about Sridevi. I know the movie as Moondram Pirai and watched it for the first time as a kid and couldn’t understand why there was no happy ending. I did not like Haasan’s character being abandoned in the film and I hated Sridevi for leaving.
I watched it again, much later as an adult, and found the beauty of that moment which was lost on me as a child.
Sridevi was born for the camera, a zing factor that was on ample display even when she was a child actor. She was probably the first woman in the country to have performed from age four to 54 with an unrivalled panache before the camera.
To watch her in 16 Vayathinile, playing the role of Mayil opposite Haasan’s Chappani was an eye-opener. I am a city girl and didn’t understand the life of someone from the countryside before this film. Bharathiraaja’s Mayil was my peek into different life. I remember asking my mother if people were really like how they looked in the film and she told me they could be.
It was not just her films, but her songs as well that left a lasting impression. The way she emoted particular phrases stayed with you. “Sippy irukudu, Muthum irukudhu” from the film Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu is one fine example, and this song is on my playlist still. The conversation between Sridevi and Haasan’s character through a song is soulfully entertaining.
In hindsight, my mother filtered most of her commercial work for me and the movies that she tuned into were always the best of Sridevi’s work. That was how an adolescent girl watched Devaraagam and not other movies, say Mr India. It’s not that Mr India was not great, but Devaraagam was soulful.
My interest in movies began, coincidentally with Devaraagam directed by Bharathan starring Arvind Swami. The 1996 Malayalam film is about Lakshmi, who fails at love, is married to a man and symbolically fails at that too. The music by MM Keeravani, Sridevi’s performance combined with that of Arvind Swami had me by the throat. The complexity was what I marveled at. For a young girl who loved books more than people, I was fascinated with how a story took form in cinema.
She is being referred to as India’s first female superstar, and for the fame that she got and the love that she still gets from her fans, this is true. For my part, I will remember her as Lakshmi from Devaraagam.