Adulatory but insightful, Satyarth Nayak's biography of Sridevi goes deep into the world of the late superstar
It's one thing to understand the impact Sridevi had as a screen icon, since she had arguably established herself as the top actress in three of India's major film industries — Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi — but to capture it on paper is a different ballgame. In Satyarth Nayak’s Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess, the actor's all-round brilliance is meticulously encapsulated, bringing forth episodes from her life that reveal a great deal about the person she was.
Satyarth Nayak’s Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess captures the late actor’s all-round brilliance as a performer.
In addition to decoding many of her great on-screen performances, Nayak navigates his way behind the scenes in exhaustive detail, to try and understand what made Sridevi tick.
Nayak delves deep into Sridevi’s early Tamil and Hindi filmography, and does a comprehensive analysis of the actor’s performances.
An aura of invincibility, along with a sense that there was little the screen diva couldn’t achieve followed Sridevi right from the initial stages of her career, which turned into not just her greatest strength, but also her biggest undoing, making every one of her accomplishments seem insignificant.
In the early 1990s, a period when blockbusters such as Himmatwala, Nagina, Karma, Mr India, and Chaalbaaz had ensured that Sridevi dominated Hindi cinema unlike any other female superstar had ever done before, the screen legend was not satisfied with her career in Hindi films. However, it’s one thing to understand Sridevi’s impact as a screen icon, who had arguably established herself as the top actress in three of India's major film industries — Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi — but to capture it on paper is a different ballgame. In this, Satyarth Nayak’s Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess does an excellent job in portraying the late actor’s all-round brilliance.
In addition to decoding many of her great on-screen performances, Nayak navigates his way behind the scenes in exhaustive detail, to try and understand what made Sridevi tick. Starting at the age of four, Sridevi rose to prominence as a child artiste in Tamil and Malayalam cinema, before transforming into a powerful leading lady at the young age of 12 in Anuragalu (1975). Popular child artistes seldom manage to make a successful transition into adult roles. However, if Sridevi faced any difficulties, they were hardly noticed ever since she featured in K Balachander’s seminal Moondru Mudichu (1976). The film not only witnessed her in a significant role, but it also happened to star two of South India's biggest up and coming male stars, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.
Based on a story by K Viswanath, Moondru Mudichu offered all three actors author-backed parts to display their acting chops, and also managed to give them a platform that would help them develop their individual acting styles. For Sridevi, the role of Selvi — who begins with being the object of desire for Prasath (Rajinikanth) and Balaji (Kamal Haasan), and later goes on to marry Prasath’s father, in order to use her new mother-son relationship to exact revenge on Prasath's treatment of Balaji — gave her enough scope to display her talent that would ultimately lay to rest the memories of her stint as a child artiste.
Nayak delves deep into Sridevi’s early Tamil and Hindi filmography, and does a comprehensive analysis of the actor’s performances, in terms of nuances and interpretation. He rarely misses a moment across films such as Kuttavum Shikshayum (1976), Alinganam (1976), Oonjal (1977), Sathyavaan Savithri (1977), Gayatri (1977), Kavikuyil (1977), 16 Vayathinile (1977), the iconic Meendum Kokila (1981), for which she won her first Filmfare Best Actress award, and the classic Moondram Pirai (1982), which was later remade in Hindi as Salma (1983). His interviews with important co-stars such as Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Jeetendra, Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh, as well as filmmakers, writers and other colleagues who contributed to her career, such as Javed Akhtar, K Viswanath, K Bhagyaraj, Ram Gopal Varma, Bharathiraja, Subhash Ghai, Shekhar Kapur, Neeta Lulla, Rakesh Shrestha, Gauri Shinde, among others, also offers a rare insight into the making of the actor.
Unlike an earlier biography that came out a few months ago, Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess also offers a deeper look at the impact Sridevi had on the world beyond the arc lights, and the larger segments of society as well. The actor was subjected to body-shaming and rampant sexism, but her on-screen avatars instilled a sense of confidence among her audience, which Nayak covers comprehensively in the book.
While talking about someone like Sridevi and her career, there needs to be a more significant discussion surrounding the way she and many other child artistes, such as Neetu Singh, were pushed into growing up much before their time. Nayak describes an incident, where at the age of 11, Sridevi was visited by cinematographer Balu Mahendra and director KS Rami Reddy, and was made to wear a saree for some kind of ‘screen test.’ The next day, everyone congratulated Sridevi’s mother, saying that her daughter had been confirmed to play the leading lady in Reddy’s new film.
Much like Sridevi’s impact on Indian cinema, her off-screen journey too — which to some might appear as sheer exploitation — is incomparable, and one wished that Nayak further explored this aspect and the influence it might have had on the actor. Although at times the reader might find the tone overtly adulatory, even a tad uncritical, in the end, Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess comes very close to being that one work of literature one might seek out to decode the late superstar.
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