Sridevi, who died in Dubai on February 24, was one of Bollywood’s best-loved entertainers.
Widely lauded for her comeback in the sweet slice-of-life drama English-Vinglish (2012), Sridevi's star has been shining since the 1970s, when she made her debut in the Tamil film industry with Moondru Mudichu, by acclaimed director K Balachander. A former child actor, Sridevi first appeared on the big screen in Thunaivan (1967), a devotional film, in which she was credited as baby Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan, her given name.
In keeping with the Indian film industry's penchant for marketable names, Shree became Sridevi – the star of numerous Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada movies, winning her first of five Filmfare awards for Meendum Kokila (1981). Solva Sawan, Sridevi's first Bollywood movie in 1979, too, was a remake of a Tamil film in which she starred alongside South India's greats Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth.
She moved to Mumbai in the 1980s for meatier roles in Hindi films. Initially dissed by leading Bollywood actresses of the time for her full figure and Tamilian accent, Sridevi got her big break in Bollywood with box-office hit Himmatwala (1983) where she was paired with Jeetendra.
Eventually, she became one of the industry’s most bankable stars, and was often pitted against screen icons Rekha and Madhuri Dixit.
Known for her dance moves and impeccable comic timing, Sridevi was a household name by the time Tohfa hit screens in 1984. Every Bollywood buff from the 1980s and 1990s has a Sridevi story - whether it's laughing at a cousin who imitates her goofy dialogues at family gatherings, requesting VCDs of Chandi and Khuda Gawah as a birthday present, or dressing up as Hawa Hawaii, fruit hat and all, for a fancy dress competition at school.
Sridevi married film producer Boney Kapoor in 1996, and took a break from acting after the birth of her daughter a year later, sporadically appearing in segments of television shows such as Salman Khan's 10 Ka Dum and Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayte. The actress was honoured with the Padma Shri award in 2013, and her last film was Mom (2017), for which she was praised as "the high priestess of Indian cinema" by The Times of India.
When I met Gauri Shinde a few years ago, the English-Vinglish director, who convinced the actress to return to the silver screen, spoke very highly of both Sridevi's acting prowess and professionalism, and her healthy lifestyle, fitness regime and stringent diet.
“I’ve only ever seen her eat broccoli,” Shinde said with a laugh. “She tried to get me to do the same, but she didn’t stand a chance.”
The mother-of-two was also a yoga buff and was always trying to get her husband into shape. For the past several years she was involved in grooming her older daughter Jhanvi for her own acting career. Jhanvi makes her debut later this year, and was filming in Mumbai at the time of her mother’s death.
Anju, Manju, Pallavi, Pooja, Benazir, Nagina, Hawa Hawaii and even Charlie Chaplin – Sridevi, the actress, wore many hats with ease. Her comic timing shone through in films such as Shekhar Kapur's Mr India (1987), Chaalbaaz (1989) and Chandni (1989). But Sridevi was equally convincing as a childlike amnesiac in the tragic Sadma (1983); as the bubbly girl-next-door who falls for an older man in the controversial Lamhe (1991); and as a woman wrongly convicted and arrested for drug possession in the hard-hitting Gumrah (1993).
As children, even her box-office flops were amusement personified. We didn't mind the cheesy dialogues of Laadla ("Jara face idhar karna") or the paper-thin plotline of Judaai (where she plays a woman who sells her husband for cash). We oohed and aahed when Sridevi dressed up as a doll-like Japanese woman in Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja, dropped to the ground in serpentine form in Nagina; or flew across the screen as a wing-tipped fairy in the frankly terrible Chandramukhi.
A true entertainer, then, one who has left an indelible mark on both Indian cinema and a whole generation who grew up borrowing saris from their mums and suspenders from their dad, depending on the Sridevi role-play for the day: Chandi or Charlie Chaplin.