Baahubali 2: The Conclusion — Would Sridevi have fared better as Sivagami?
It is often said that what a film director really directs is the audience’s attention. The greatest aid to succeed in this aspect usually comes in the form of the actors chosen to portray specific roles and S.S. Rajamouli might have had this in mind when he approached Sridevi to portray Sivagami in his opus Baahubali.
From the looks of the scale of the Baahubali franchise, the production quality and, quite simply, the milestone it was destined to become, there could be little doubt that Sridevi was tailor-made for the character. The actor’s aura by itself could have been reason enough for Rajamouli to imagine her as the iron-willed matriarch who goes through a gamut of emotions in the course of the two films.
It is said that Sridevi demanded Rs 6 crore as remuneration, which was a tad too high for the producers and they ultimately opted for Ramya Krishnan. Ironically enough, Sridevi’s aura made her a natural choice for Sivagami, Ramya Krishnan’s near ‘lack of baggage’ as an actor in the end only helped enhance Sivagami better.
Despite a flourishing career that saw her feature in over 150 films across Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi cinema, Ramya Krishnan’s name is not the first that that pops into one’s mind when thinking of actors from the 1990s. In addition to Meena, Soundarya or Naghma, Ramya was one of the most popular actresses of the decade and forayed into Hindi films with Yash Chopra’s Parampara (1993) and later became popular as Ballu Balram’s (Sanjay Dutt) moll in Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak (1993).
Although Ramya was first seen in Feroz Khan’s Dayavaan (1989), where she played the girl in the song ‘Chahe Meri Jaan Tu Le Le’, it was only with films like Khalnayak and later Criminal (1995) and Chaahat (1994), her paramount Hindi roles, that she stood out. For Hindi audiences, Ramya, at best, could be slotted between a Sridevi and a Madhavi, who starred in Andha Kanoon (1983), Geraftaar (1985) and Agneepath (1990).
Ramya’s popularity in the context of Hindi films dipped post Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (1998) but elsewhere things were only looking up. She featured opposite Rajinikanth in Padaiyappa (1999) and hit a peak of sorts by winning the Filmfare Award (Tamil) for Best Actress as well. This was before Baahubali, of course, which, in a way, has not only elevated Ramya to a different league altogether but also made her peerless.
Today, it would be impossible to imagine any other actor besides Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami but for the sake of argument, could Sridevi have played it better?
There is no denying that Sridevi’s histrionics would have presented an entirely different interpretation of Sivagami but would she really have been better?
There are two scenes in the Baahubali 2: The Conclusion that compel this writer to believe that Sridevi would have been superior to Ms Krishnan. At the onset, this is not to say that Ramya Krishnan did not ‘nail it’ when it came to Sivagami but the two set pieces – one where Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) revolts against Sivagami in the court in front of everyone and the second where Sivagami realizes her folly - of believing her son, Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati), and her husband, Bijjala Deva (Nassar), and ordering the assassination of Baahubali – show how she probably fell short than what Sridevi could have managed.
These two scenes and especially the former where Sivagami has to live an entire lifetime in a matter of seconds where she witnesses her ‘son’ Amarendra freeing himself from her shadow and become bigger than her own self could have been the ones that prompted Rajamouli to envision Sridevi as Sivagami. The sheer range that Sridevi portrays in such scenes as seen in Moondram Pirai (1982), which was later remade as Sadma (1983) in Hindi, or Lamhe (1991) where she filters the entirety of her character in one singular moment is what possibly made her a no-brainer for Sivagami.
The reactions to Sridevi making a big career mistake by refusing Sivagami have swamped the Internet for the past few days.
These have ranged from fans to members of the trade such as Ram Gopal Varma, who is not only a self-obsessed Sridevi fan but also someone who directed her in Kshana Kshanam (1991) and Govinda Govinda (1994). Varma tweeted that had Sridevi done the film she would have gotten more credit than Prabhas and it would have been an outstanding film for her illustrious career.
Perhaps certain things are simply not meant to be and Sridevi’s loss resulted in the great rediscovery of Ramya Krishnan.
Actors across the world have made similar mistakes and learnt from it too. Sean Connery famously rejected the roles of Morpheus and Gandalf in The Matrix (1999) and The Lord of the Rings (2001) respectively because he “didn’t understand it.” Some years later he got offered another role that he didn’t understand as well but accepted it nonetheless and said, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn it down.” The film was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)…. here’s hoping that Sridevi is in no tearing hurry to rectify things.