Sridevi passes away: Right from her 16 Vayathinilie days, the actress won fans' hearts
What was it about Sridevi which made her the icon she is? Was it because she could transform into Charlie Chaplin with just a mustache? The fact that she should do a Michael Jackson signature move dressed in a sari? Or was it because she could make us laugh and swoon within the space of a song?
There is a striking scene in Sridevi’s 1991 sleeper Telugu hit Kshana Kshanam, directed by Ram Gopal Varma: A bank heist film, each time she was stressed out, Sridevi would mutter, “Devuda Devuda"... making the audiences want to reach out and pull her out of whatever peril she was facing. To this day, that quirk remains relatable, making it truly timeless. The movie was a made to order platform for her kaleidoscope of skills — acting, dancing and most of all, her impeccable comic timing.
She literally grew up in front of camera and her first big role in Telugu was as demigod NTR’s granddaughter in Badi Panthulu at the age of five. Then she was his leading lady in an umpteen number of movies just a decade later, to much scandal. As a child artist, she played the role of Duryodhana’s sister Dussala in Bala Bharatam with ease, which paved her path to being an actress. Her big breakthrough, however, was in the cult movie 16 Vayathinile — helmed by Bharitiraja in Tamil and Raghavendra Rao (as Padaharella Vayasu) in Telugu.
Afterwards, the legend of Sri grew and grew. She was the only actress in Telugu to star with three generations of heroes – she participated in histrionics with screen legends ANR and NTR, matched steps with the next wave of actors Krishna, Shoban Babu, Chandramohan and Murali Mohan and effortlessly overshadowed the superstars Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh, no mean feat in a strictly patriarchal industry, going on to making movies as a heroine opposite the father and son duo of ANR and Nagarjuna!
Her pairing with Kamal Haasan in Tamil (with whom she starred alongside in more than a dozen films) remains the benchmark for couple pairings onscreen and much before she entered Hindi movies, Sri was a star celebrated both for her immense beauty and meticulous craft, both of which she made her trademark.
In Aakali Rajyam, she was the balm to Kamal Haasan’s fire and fury. She made us believe that she was a Goddess who descended from heaven in Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari, relegating superstar Chiranjeevi to the sidelines. Her tough as nails outing in Aakhari Poratam spewed a generation of Telugu children named Pravallika. In Balu’s seminal Moondram Pirai (remade in Hindi as Sadma) she stunned people as a young woman suffering from retrograde amnesia.
What was it about her which made her the icon she is? Was it because she could transform into Charlie Chaplin with just a mustache? The fact that she should do a Michael Jackson signature move dressed in a sari? Or was it because she could make us laugh and swoon within the space of a song? It was all that and more, for Sridevi was a rare star who transformed completely into the character once the camera was on, her sparkly eyes and a face which could launch a million ships ensured that she remained a beloved star for nearly two decades.
Many of her later Hindi movies from Chandni, Chaalbaaz, Lamhe and Gumrah cemented her status as a superstar. Her movie Naagin had a sequel in the '80s and she was the only actress to have a double role in an Amitabh Bachchan movie!
The actress proved her mettle with her very first movie as an actress, 16 Vayathinile. As a 16-year-old whose heart is broken, when a man she is in love with tells her that he is in love with her age and not with her, she transforms from a naïve teenage to a no-nonsense woman who takes charge of her life, she was a star in every sense. It was a dream launch and gave ample room for her munificent talent to shine and sparkle.
What added to the aura was that she was reticent, even unwilling to speak a few words off screen. It was her stellar body of work, good natured demeanor and the goodwill built over decades which spared her the backlash when she fell for a married man in Boney Kapoor.
As the news of her untimely demise breaks out, there is a real sense of shock and sadness, not the sanitised Twitter platitudes one gets to hear. For someone who grew up in a home where she was idolised, it feels as if someone I knew has passed away.
The only silver lining in this tragic episode is what she told me the only time I interviewed her, five years ago: that she was happy she could give her young daughters what she had craved – a normal childhood, away from the arclights, and an education. As the young girls stand on the cusp of stardom without their beloved mother, an entire nation stands alongside cheering them on.
Thank you Sridevi for your radiant smile. For the funny roles which made us laugh, for the dance moves which left us in awe and for the acting chops which left us stunned.
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