Paying tribute to Sridevi one year on

Paying tribute to Sridevi one year on

On the occasion of her first death anniversary this week, Khalid Mohamed pays tribute to the actress who owned every inch of the screen whenever she appeared on it


Khalid Mohamed

Published: Thu 21 Feb 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Feb 2019, 4:44 PM

February 24 will mark Sridevi Kapoor's first death anniversary. The phenomenal star passed away in a Dubai hotel, a few days after attending a family wedding. The cause: accidental death by drowning in the hotel's bathtub.

To say that her absence is a void in Indian cinema that can never be filled would amount to stating the obvious. Her peer Madhuri Dixit has assented to portray the role originally meant for Sridevi in the upcoming Karan Johar-produced period opus Kalank, opposite Sanjay Dutt.

Be that as it may, all I can say is that Sridevi was an artiste who spent the most glorious moments of her all-too-short life, enacting a staggering variety of roles ever since she was a child, debuting at the age of four in the Tamil mythological film Kandhan Karunai (1967), which featured stalwarts like Sivaji Ganesan, J. Jayalalithaa and Gemini Ganesan.

Her shocking death continues to be discussed. Unfortunately, the tragedy was sensationalised particularly by the news channels in India. Yet, there's an element of the mysterious, which has spawned theories ranging from the absurd to the purely conjectural. In fact, during the immediate weeks in Mumbai or when I was in Abu Dhabi for a book fair, I was barraged with the question, "But what happened?" To that, I could only respond with the answer, "Let's respect her memory."

Given the public as well as the media curiosity, Boney Kapoor and their two daughters, Janhvi and Khushi, have coped with the media with exemplary grace. Five months later, the grieving Janhvi had made her debut with Dhadak, and sought to hold back her tears. Her mother had seen some of the rushes of the film, but, alas, couldn't be beside Janhvi on her big day of the premiere.

Ten days before the death anniversary, the Kapoor family - along with Boney's brother Anil Kapoor - conducted a prayer ceremony at Sridevi's home in Mylapore, Chennai. Popular Tamil actor Ajith Kumar and Gauri Shinde, who had directed the actress in well-liked English Vinglish (2012), was present at the puja, along with her filmmaker husband R. Balki.

During her lifetime, Sridevi was chary of allowing an authorised autobiography, although Boney Kapoor was keen to commission one. Perhaps the book project couldn't fructify because of the actress' shy nature. Over time, she did open up to a degree in interviews, discarding her habitual tendency to answer in monosyllables. Even if the questions were strictly related to her acting skills, she would fob them off with the expected, "I just do what the director tells me to."

Vis-à-vis her iconic dance numbers - be it the boogie Hawa Hawaai from Mr India (1987) or the lakeside tandav from Chandni (1989) - she would apportion the entire credit to the dance directors and the technical team. Surprisingly, she was never trained in any form of classical dance, and emphasised that her moves and steps were picked up on the job.

So was she a switch-on-switch-off actress, then? She'd go with that notion, but that struck me either as unbelievable or self-deprecating. How could any artiste get into the skin of the mentally-askew girl in Sadma (1983), without any method, study or emotional involvement, baffled me. How she had perfected herself in the art of comedy, evidenced particularly in ChaalBaaz (1989), is beyond me.

Ram Gopal Varma - a self-proclaimed fanboy of Sridevi - whom he directed in the Telugu films Kshana Kshanam (1991) and Govinda Govinda (1993), would say, "Why do you guys look for deep meanings in a performance? She's sheer magic, she can transform from Sridevi to a totally alien personality in a split second."

Inevitably, there has been a rush to publish quickie biographies on the long and winding career of Sridevi (one is already out in the stores). Yet, perhaps only Boney Kapoor - if he were to speak at length - or Shekhar Kapur, who directed her in Mr India (1987), could offer insights and unknown facts about the phenomenon, who never opened up about the turbulent phases in her life. Since she had no respite from the studios ever since she was knee-high, I often wonder if she ever experienced the little joys of childhood. Her coming of age story, indeed, would be a page-turner by itself.

Perhaps a posthumous biography, which informs the reader about the woman behind the actress, is just not feasible. For instance, as much as I'm an admirer of Norman Mailer's Marilyn Monroe: A Biography, published in 1973, 11 years after her death, it is way more interesting for its fabulous photographs than for the author's extended essay, which, to this day, remains entirely debatable. Eminent playwright Arthur Miller, former husband to Monroe, had commented categorically that the book was a figment of Mailer's unbridled imagination.
Therein lies the rub, then. We would all like to know more about Sridevi. A chronicle, authorised by her family, of her estimable achievements would be a collectible for sure.

Whether that happens or not, she will remain enshrined in our hearts and minds as a star who entered our lives to stay forever.

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