'There are bits and pieces of me in every role': Sridevi

There are bits and pieces of me in every role: Sridevi

As Sridevi's 300th film Mom prepares to make its way to the theatres, the actress - known as Bollywood's first female superstar - reflects on her robust cinematic legacy

By Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Fri 30 Jun 2017, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 7 Jul 2017, 11:56 AM

How do you master the art of being someone else when you are an introvert? Or, could inhabiting a fictional character's world - her myriad emotions - be a foil for the recluse in you? Sridevi, the star, is a woman of few words. But Sridevi, the actor, can be loquacious. In the past four decades that she has been part of Indian cinema, Sridevi has owned every inch of her characters, every single word mouthed by them - be it the infantilism of Reshmi in Sadma, the candour of Manju in Chaalbaaz or the coyness of Pallavi in Lamhe. A reason why her admirers tend to seek remnants of Sridevi, the woman, in the iconic characters she has played on screen.
The 300-films-old Sridevi we speak to prior to the release of her new film Mom would rather have us believe that she is, somewhat, emotionally and intellectually divorced from the women she has embodied on screen. "Well, there are bits and pieces that are similar. These are special characters in my life. Sadma is my favourite film, but the character's not me. Apart from that, how can I relate to Chandni? How do I relate to Pallavi - who is from Rajasthan?" Keeping the geography aside in the next sentence, she admits that being mom, a role she has been playing both on and off the screen, may have come closest to capturing the essence of Sridevi, the mother. "Because in the last few films, I played a mother, so there were moments when I felt, 'Yes, I do this too.' Even in Mom, being a mother has helped me understand my character's motives better. I am a strong and devoted mother, so is the character."
It may seem tough to break into the largely monosyllabic world of Sridevi, the star. At a time when most leading ladies are carefully tutored to make their presence felt in the media as well as social networks, there is an unspoken demand for eloquence and articulation. But as the star of the '80s and '90s, Sridevi - it seems - believes in the power, and allure, of reticence. Her words are measured and conceal more than they reveal. "It's really good for fans to interact with actors on social media. They know exactly what you are doing, what you are feeling. But it's not necessary that I have to provide updates about everything that is going on in my life. Not everything needs to be shared."
Apparently, husband Boney Kapoor, who has co-produced Mom, also got a taste of Sridevi's famed reticence, albeit for different reasons. During the trailer launch, it was revealed that Sridevi did not speak to Boney Kapoor during the process of filming. The reason? "You know, it's a very intense role. I didn't want to joke around or feel that my husband was on the sets. I wanted to be alone and remain in the character. Actors usually make bigger sacrifices. This, in comparison, was no big deal."
If anything, this provides an insight into the world of the artiste that is Sridevi. Her creative process is so deeply entrenched into her craft that it becomes indefinable. Her efforts to articulate the process lead to awkward rummaging for words. "My creative process hasn't changed at all. Hmm. I always give my 100 per cent. Making a film is a big commitment, you have to be totally into the character."
If Bollywood of the '80s and '90s was largely flamboyant, the last decade has paved way for relatively more nuanced and layered modes of storytelling. The transformation has challenged status quos, and ensured there are more experimental scripts where characters take precedence over actors playing them. The success of Sridevi's last Bollywood outing English Vinglish may have been a by-product of the same, and the actress is not unaware of it. "The environment has changed. It's become more professional. Everything has a time frame. Now, producers are willing to experiment with modern subjects that are women-oriented. The success of Piku, Kahaani, Queen and English Vinglish prove that. People ask why am I working mostly with new directors. My argument is: why not? They come up with new ideas, new scripts and new plots."
Today, Sridevi is a name that resonates with different generations for different reasons. One remembers her as a superstar, while the other identifies her as a supermom. At the heart of these nomenclatures is a woman who'd rather be both.

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