Between my earliest memory of Sridevi in 1989’s Chaalbaaz and last year’s Mom, the one striking thing was how her craft had beautifully adapted to the times. How often had we seen ‘yesteryear stars’ act like it, completely unaware of how ‘their era’ has been left far behind? In the case of Sridevi, it felt like she had been around even when she made her ‘comeback’ in 2012’s English Vinglish, after nearly a decade and a half. And therefore, it becomes harder to process the news of her passing. One moment she’s *right here* in the movies, in the many photo galleries, and in another moment she is not.
Reports indicate that she had a massive cardiac arrest in Dubai, where she was attending a wedding with her immediate family.
Like any great actor, Sridevi was essentially clay in the hands of the story-teller. Whether it was to play the child-like character in Sadma, or the luminous Seema memsaab during kaate nahi kat-ti in Mr. India, she could do both and she could do more. And she would not look out of place in either. She brought both these sides to herself as she essayed the double role in Chaalbaaz, where she was simpleton Anju who would stutter in each sentence and add a ji while talking to everyone (something Rajinikanth hilariously mocks). And also the vivacious Manju, who would do that iconic ‘umbrella step’ during the song Kisi ke haath naa aayegi yeh ladki.
With a career spanning more than four decades, in movies across four languages – she found a way to keep herself ‘relevant’ by posing new challenges to herself in every few films. She obviously did the heroine routine in films like Himmatwala, Tohfa and so many of those cringe-worthy movies from the 80s, but she continually kept expanding the ambit of a ‘heroine’ in films such as Nagina, Mr. India and, who can forget, Lamhe. It was Sridevi’s poise and her simmering anger, that possibly rubbed off on a usually boisterous Anil Kapoor, and resulted in (arguably) Yash Chopra’s finest love story. She took that legacy of playing both mother and daughter characters forward in Khuda Gawah too, where as Benazir she made the song Tu naa jaa mere Badshah immortal, purely by lip-syncing to it atop a stone-house.
Sridevi took control of her narrative as mainstream Bollywood actor, by choosing roles that were inherently flawed and human. In an era, where she could have comfortably continued playing the Yashraj leading lady in a chiffon sari, she chose to do films like the ambitious caper Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, and her rendition of the ‘deglam heroine’ in Yash Johar’s Gumrah, where she played an inmate in a Hong Kong prison. She also didn’t back down from the anti-heroine roles like those of the snobbish boss in Laadla, the vengeful wife in Army or the gold-digger in Judaai.
At a time, when Madhuri Dixit was adorably feeding halwa to Salman Khan and Kajol was racing through mustard fields towards Shah Rukh Khan’s open arms, Sridevi was busy transforming the role of a heroine from an ‘object of conflict’ to the ‘driver of resolution’. Or at least someone who had a real say in it.
And she showed this keenness, even in Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish. Shashi Godbole was probably too subtle for mainstream Bollywood. How she dealt with her teenage daughter’s savage remarks, how she quietly brushed aside her ‘liberal’ husband’s digs, which were obviously accompanied with a ‘just kidding’. And how she distracted herself by doing *that* Michael Jackson step, for her little nutmeg of a son.
Ravi Udyawar’s Mom was only a peek into the territory Sridevi was willing to enter, as she continually kept pushing the envelope for what a ‘Bollywood heroine’ could do. And that’s why her untimely death is all the more unfortunate. We’ve lost a trailblazer, when she was probably on the cusp of something very exciting.
Rest well, Miss Hawa Hawai!