REMEMBERING A SUPER STAR
One year has not passed and we have before us a book on her life. It seems there were many in the market who wished that the moist eyes of her fans remained a bit longer moist, before a final wipe.
We remember clearly through a video recording of the party going on in Dubai on 24th February 2018, when a well dressed Sreedevi emerged from her hotel room to mingle with the guests. The next we hear is that she is found dead in her hotel room bath tub.
The nation was left stunned. There was no alert that Sreedevi had any illness to render her dead so suddenly. Even as she lay dead and dressed in bridal form, and with makeup, gossip in Mumbai raised its head to find out the cause of her sudden death. Most gossip tales laid their suspicion on her husband Boney Kapoor. Why was a post mortem avoided in Dubai. Why no blood sample analysed. Mumbai Police was kept at bay from undertaking a full inquest inquiry. There was talk that her death was due to severe financial tensions in the family. She had lost her jewelry to pawn dealers. Her comeback to active work was also to salvage her husband’s financial fortunes, etc. Finally along with the embers of her ashes, Sridevi’s memories were allowed to get cooled by time. The gossip monger had now shifted to report on the two surviving daughters.
Lalita Iyer’s tribute book, Sridevi Queen of Heart, is really written from the author’s heart. Here is a well read fan of the actress, who is self confessed that she never had the opportunity to share a personal contact with her favourite subject, and still went on to write a whole book. As a writer, Lalita Iyer is a master of words and a professional journalist who has been on the beat for nearly two decades. So her book on Sridevi cannot be set aside with a sneer.
Sridevi was born in August 1963. Her father was a Tamilian advocate with a reasonable practice in Chennei, and her mother was an Andhrite mother. In a bilingual family this came to be an advantage as Sridevi was fluent in the languages spoken by the parents. Her father and mother both were married to separate spouses and had children from their earlier marriages, but Sridevi did not get to know them well and she never volunteered to talk of them. Sridevi had her own sibling, a younger sister, Srilatha.
There was nothing to report on the childhood of Sridevi. She was already being shown around the offices of film producers when she had just completed her second birthday. By the time she was in her fourth year, Sridevi appears in her first child role as Lord Muruga in Thunaivan (1968). Thereafter she never looked back to any childhood. By the time she was eleven years of age, unknowing to herself , she had been transformed into a heroine role in film Moondru Mudichu. In this she was rare person. Her male counterpart in dozens of films, Kamal Haasan also fared the same fate, and both separately lamented their loss of childhood.
That Sridevi was talented became apparent when she easily won the Best Child Artist Award in the Kerala State Film Awards of 1971. There is a bit of confusion when she was introduced into Hindi Cinema. Most agree she played the younger sister to Julie(1975), but she was actually introduced into Hindi films through Rani Mera Naam(1971) produced by the Hindi film star Askok Kumar. In a film career spanning 47 years, Sridevi participated in nearly 300 films including those that remained unfinished. She showed her language prowess in films made in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada When it came to speak in Hindi. She decided to play with monosyllables and head nods. Try as she did, Sridevi could not overcome her heavy Tamil accent and in her Hindi films, her sound track was dubbed by either actresses, Naaz or Rekha. In later career she decided to stick to her accent heavy dialogues. She was most at ease in her third last film English Vinglish (2012) which poked fun also on her English language which she wanted to master to impress her friends and relatives.
Sridevi’s early adulthood was supervised by her mother, Rajeswari Yanger. The mother too had in her youth tried her hand in Telugu films but failed. Now she wanted to see success in cinema through her elder daughter and when it finally came , she was satisfied as a duck and guarded her little darling away from the eyes of male gaze. Sridevi had no boy friend even when she was over fifteen of age, and had enacted a rape scene in a Malayalam film. Finally when Mama Rajeswari discovered Sridevi in the arms of a married man, in Mithun Chakravorty, she let loose her guards to separate the lovers. She also waged a winning war against the Mumbai actor Jitender and ensured the two stayed apart after shooting was over.
Sridevi ‘s private life was supposed to be one long tragedy. A lost childhood, a deprived a teen period, a dark disciplined life under the watchful eyes of her mother left in Sridevi many scars. In 1991, her father died leaving her devastated. Soon enough her mother was found with a tumour in her brain and rushed to USA for an operation. The doctor in USA cut out the wrong part of the mother’s brain. Rajeswari returned to India in a comatose state to die prematurely a silent death. She was too weak to wage her war when she discovered during her illness that another much married man, Boney Kapoor, was attached to Sridevi who was devoted to both the daughter and the mother. She allowed the liaison to persist even as she slipped into her vegetable state. After Rajeswari’s death Boney married Sridevi in 1996; both had been much maligned by the film industry. Boney for abandoning his first wife and grown up children, and Sridevi for wrecking a respected family.
Lailita Iyer tells us Sridevi was the first cross over star from South India to enter the Hindi film industry (p45). Wrong. The first real cross over female star was Vyjanthimala , although Bhanumati was already a recognizable face through her Gemini films like Chandralekha , Mangala and Nishan. Vyjayanthimala entered Hindi cinema with her Hindi fi lm Bahar (1953) which was a remake of a very successful Tamil film . And Waheeda Rehman from Vijaywada was a close behind Vyjaynthimala! Sridevi however over- came the handicap and overtook all her rival artists in talent, fan following and final memory. She finally became the first female super star of Indian cinema and commanded a performance fee akin to that of Amitabh Bachchan in his best times. That was a big sum to say the least.
Besides her work in five regional language cinemas, Sridevi also helmed her husband’s only television foray in a serial Malini Iyer which failed to get any appreciable TRP and was therefore pulled down after a run of about six months. Many of the heroes who were associated with her films, had their film careers created or salvaged. Rajanikant bhowever swore he would not work with her when she out shown his film presence in the comedy film Chaalbaaz. For two decade of 1975 and 1995, Sridevi ruled the commercial film world of south India and Bollywood. One trade analyst had said, Sridevi occupied the first five slots of rankings as the most dependable artist in the Industry. She was finally anointed as the Female Amitabh Bachchan of Indian Cinema, a title she did not relish.
Sridevi was not a trained dancer but she was associated with some of the best chorographers of her time and she was a quick learner in the art. She created her image as a formidable dancer in her films like Nagina, Chandini, Lamhe , Chaalbaaz and Mr India , films which were her best works. In her sudden death, Sridevi was able to imprint a deeper memory of her work and given longer shelf lives to many of her films which may not have deserved this help.
Lalita Iyer has skipped moving into Sridevi ‘ s topsy turvy career and the formidable handicaps she overcame. For that we may still have to go back into the pages of old editions of Stardust!
This film book has its short-coming. For a film archivist, there is no filmography of the artist, and no index to the work. All the pictures incorporated in the text are courtesy from the collection in the National Film Archives of India, Pune. It seems the writer did not get the family support to share details of her life, and her admirable effort has rested on the interviews with some of Sridevi associates and the help accessed from google searches! The publishers also seem to chase a deadline to rush into print a pulp tribute before Sridevi’s public memory begins to fade. The effort shows!