It was said about the 70’s Bollywood actress Mumtaz, that she resurrected the fizzling careers of Rajesh Khanna and Shashi Kapoor. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that it was Sridevi who helped Yash Chopra redeem his lost glory through his comeback venture Chandni after a string of unsuccessful films. With Lamhe being the biggest international success, the spell was finally broken and Yash Chopra never looked back after that.
When the late Sridevi turned down the offer to work with Amitabh Bachchan in Khuda Gawah, rumour has it the actor sent a truck full of roses to convince her as he needed a hit desperately after an unprecedented number of flops including Ajooba, Jaadugar, Main Azaad Hoon and Toofan. Time and again she had come forward to rescue the men of the industry including her own husband Boney Kapoor who was facing a severe financial crunch in the 2000s. Sridevi was taken on board by Sahara One for a very forgettable project called Malini Iyer at a fee which was unheard of in the television industry. They all knew that if anyone could guarantee success at the box office, it was her. If anyone could draw audience to cinema like bees to a hive, then Sridevi was the only option.
The advent of Sridevi 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. 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. The actress successfully stormed the bastion of Hindi films with Himmatwala and became part of Jeetendra's Madras machinery which regularly churned out formula films.
With Sadma, where she played a child-woman, she won her first National Award. Being the highest paid actress in the 80’s and on top of her game in films like Nagina, Chaandni and ChaalBaaz, she performed with an awesome array of expressions winning the audiences and critics both.
But the nineties had not been very kind to Sridevi; 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 soporific extravaganza Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja forced the queen to abdicate the throne. She had become just too big for the run-of-the-mill characters, but her fire was yet not doused.
It was truly ironic that Bollywood of the 90's almost did not know what to do with a talent like Sridevi. Mahesh Bhatt, who had directed Sridevi in her film Gumrah and was the first one to break the news of Sridevi’s death live during a reality show, shared his regrets; "Back then, we just could not rise to her potential. We neither had the imagination nor the courage to create roles worthy of her."
The truth is, she remained big right till the end - it was the films that got smaller.
I have always been one of the avid participants and a frontline warrior whenever fans broke out into a Twitter war that involved her and her arch-rival, Madhuri Dixit. I will also honestly admit that I was the happiest when I read reviews of Madhuri’s comeback venture Aja Nachle and I celebrated the fact that it had tanked at the box office. I was over the moon when a few years later Sridevi decided to come back to where she belonged i.e. on the film set for English Vinglish. The fact that she had chosen a deglamorized role that relies far more on her histrionics was a brave decision. It was a master stroke which introduced a new generation to the phenomenon known as Sridevi. She was hailed as the 'Meryl Streep of India' and was once again flooded with offers. That had given a new lease of life to the millions of fans and once again she was winning hearts all around until she sprung a nasty surprise in Dubai.
The Final Exit
For me, this bad dream hasn’t ended as yet. Often, I drive past the Jumeirah Emirates Towers hotel where she breathed her last and it brings back all the bad memories of the ill-fated night. Death of an idol or a close one tears you apart and leaves you with a faint question of ‘what could have been?’. What if she were alive at this time? How would she have performed the iconic character Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada’s Hindi remake with Alia Bhatt playing the role of Andria Sachs, a script that was in the works by Dharma Productions. What scripts would she have chosen? What will be a Sridevi-less world for us? What will be our reference points now? How about a closure on what really happened that night?
She was a private person and she left as one. Despite her success, she remained an enigma all her life. Even her regular co-star Rishi Kapoor commented, "All we ever said to each other was Hi and Bye." Probably the pain and anger of her long struggle forms the mortar for the walls of privacy that she had built around her. But in 2019, one year after her demise, a biography called Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess by Satyarth Nayak was published which shared some interesting insights into her life which was well received. Earlier this month, Boney Kapoor announced another biography called Sridevi: The Life of a Legend by Dhiraj Kumar which is expected to be launched soon.
No matter how may biographies come out, for me Sridevi’s life will always remain a bestseller with its final chapters missing.
City Times got in touch with some of the diehard Sridevi fans around the world and this is what they have shared in memory of their icon.
"Sridevi's stardom was unparalleled. She is not only the longest reigning No.1 actress of Hindi Cinema. She also remains the only actress who was No.1 in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu Cinema. Such true pan-India stardom has not even been achieved by Bachchan or the Khans. They used to say when Sridevi was in the film, no one asked who was the hero! That is what I loved about her and that is what I find is missing after her." Satyarth Nayak, India
"Her absence will always be felt. Although she worked with several acclaimed directors in well-made movies such as Sadma, Chandni, Lamhe all the way to English Vinglish, what set her apart was the fact that she could make even a banal script such as Laadla, Army and Chalbaaz must-watch films thanks to her undeniable talent and magnetic presence. And let’s admit it, no one has been a better 'naagin' than her in Nagina." Mamun Adil, Pakistan
"Sridevi made me fall in love with Bollywood, her magical aura, her plethora of expressions and boundless talent is what defined Bollywood to me. Out of all her films, Lamhe is closest to my heart. Lamhe means moments and this movie gave me moments that shall last forever." Zeeshan Gaya, Dubai
"Sridevi is indisputably the best actress ever. Her passing away will be the biggest nightmare for me. She has left behind an ache that can never be cured. I will always remember her by the great impression she had on me in my growing years." Dr. Santhosh, India
"Sridevi has been my inspiration and my icon since I was a child. I grew up admiring her amazing onscreen persona and was always ready to pick a war against anyone who thought that Madhuri was a bigger or better actress. It took months to recover from the shock after she passed away. My life had become purposeless. She may not be around today, but she is present in every breath that I take and will be with me forever." Gaurav Rajput, India
"She was my idol. She still is. During my school days, I remember I used to tell everyone that I was Sridevi. After Chandni released, I changed my entire wardrobe to white. Till date, I try to copy her style. In fact, I was just watching one of her last videos from the RAK wedding and got myself a dress just like she was wearing. I have not allowed my mind to register that she is not physically present. I don’t think I ever will." Amina Dhrolia, Dubai
Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai based entertainment writer. His Instagram handle is @sadiqidas.
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