Sridevi: The Cinderella whose clock struck twelve too soon

A review of the official biography 'Sridevi - The Eternal Screen Goddess' to commemmorate the actor's second death anniversary today.

By Sadiq Saleem

Published: Tue 25 Feb 2020, 10:19 AM

Last updated: Fri 28 Feb 2020, 10:37 AM

"It was on a Sunday that the world woke up to the death of Marilyn Monroe, it was on a Sunday that it woke up to Princess Diana's passing. And it was a Sunday on 25 February 2018 when the world woke up to the tragic news of Sridevi's sudden demise the previous night,'' reminisces Satyarth Nayak in Sridevi - The Eternal Screen Goddess, on the legendary actress, which is an ode to the extraordinary life and career of India's biggest star.
Ask any Bollywood aficionado and he would admit that the world is torn between Sridevi & Madhuri admirers. I have been a Sri loyalist all my life and the news of her death had turned my world upside down. That night, I was following Twitter updates to know which hospital was she taken to from Jumeirah Emirates Towers. I was on the roads, in Dubai, until 4am and returned home only after visiting the hospital. The rest of the night was spent watching the story of her death unravel in the media. The next morning, I went to the Forensic Science department of the Police Station near Qusais where the post mortem was underway. I remember seeing her coffin, next to a Pakistani taxi-driver's coffin, with her autopsy report stuck on top. It was a dreadful sight to recall.
An eye-opening book
I had written a few stories for UAE publications around this experience of mine and when a book on Sridevi's life and filmography was in the making, Sridevi's husband and film producer Boney Kapoor's team got in touch with me through the author as they wanted me to contribute some information and insights in the upcoming book. The book is authored by an award-winning correspondent and author, Satyarth Nayak and it was launched by Deepika Padukone and Karan Johar in Delhi and Mumbai respectively in December last year.
For someone who was born in the eighties and had seen Sri from the lens of Bollywood, this book was an eye opener - that she had already created hysteria of sorts in Telugu and Tamil Industry in the seventies. In fact one half of the book is filled with her outstanding career in regional films. Satyarth mentions in the book: "There had been female superstars, who ruled only Hindi cinema or who dominated only Tamil and Telugu box offices. No actress so far had become number one in three industries simultaneously. No star had wielded such a pan-Indian appeal - not even Amitabh or the Khans, not even Raijni or Kamal, not even Chiranjeevi or Nag, Mammootty or Mohanlal. No male actor, despite all the gender privileges, had achieved what the Mai of Bollywood had. She had become India's first female superstar." The book is filled with anecdotes of Sri's life on the film sets and her personal interactions with directors, stars and her admirers. Everyone from Jeetendra to Karan Johar to Vidya Balan to Saroj Khan and Anil Kapoor have shared intimate details of their interaction and the work ethic of the mega star. As Sri herself remained painfully shy and an enigma most of her life, the details of her personal and professional life in the form of a book is no less than a treasure for any cine-goer. The book also sheds light on her cordial equation with Rekha, the only actress she was close to and how she remained unaffected by her arch rivals Jaya Prada and Madhuri Dixit.
Prowess still unmatched
The reign of Sridevi has been a record of sorts in the heroine sweepstakes. She has been at the top for the longest spell among the Indian screen's queen bees. She successfully stormed the bastion of Hindi films with Himmatwala and became part of Jeetendra's Madras machinery which regularly cranked out formula films. With Sadma, where she played a child-woman she won her first National Award. The advent of Sri coincided with the end of the Hema-Rekha era. The Rati-Padmini brigade simply did not have impressive star value and the 5'7'' tall Sridevi soon dwarfed the competition. She was the highest paid actress of the eighties which got her a tag of 'Female Amitabh Bachchan'. In the late eighties, in films like Nagina, Chaandni and ChaalBaaz she performed with an awesome array of expressions winning the audience and critics both. But the nineties had not been very kind to Sri, films like Lamhe, Khuda Gawah and Gumrah though running testaments to her talent, proved to be economic non-performers and finally the debacle of the sopoforic extravaganza Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja forced the queen to abdicate the throne. Mahesh Bhatt, who directed Sridevi in her film Gumrah, shares his regrets in the book that, "Back then, we just could not rise to her potential. We neither had the imagination nor the courage to create roles worthy of her." She was too big for their run-of -the -mill characters. But her fire was yet un-doused. The prowess was still unmatched. It was truly ironic that Bollywood of the 90's almost did not know what to do with a talent like Sri. The truth is, she remained big right till the end - it was the films that got smaller.
Biographer Richard Holmes once wrote that his work was "writing about the pursuit of that figure, in such a way as to bring them alive in the present." And Satyarth's book does exactly that. It successfully encapsulates the child star turning into a mega star, the pause, the comeback and the final exit. As Satyarth concludes in his book that, "Now that she is not between us, one can only thank her for those countless moments when she touched our very core with her art. And we can only forever stare at the irony of her last words on celluloid. When walking away from all of us in that scene in Zero, Sridevi giggles and says 'Next time'." As if she almost knew.
(Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai based entertainment writer. He can be contacted on his page fb/sidsaidso.)

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