In death, she has been as mesmerising as she was on screen. Speculation reached fever pitch this week after Bollywood legend Sridevi was found drowned in a hotel bathtub in Dubai while under the influence of alcohol, with some Indian newspapers pondering the circumstances surrounding her tragic death and even, rather tastelessly, elaborating on other bathtub deaths and the likelihood of drowning in one. Social media has been awash with provocation and rumours. All of this must be excruciating for her recently bereaved husband and two young daughters, who had just celebrated the wedding of Sridevi's nephew Mohit Marwah with her in a week-long extravaganza in Ras Al Khaimah. As Navdeep Suri, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, has pointed out, restraint is called for in such difficult circumstances and such speculation is unhelpful when a family is in the throes of grief.
With a forensics report giving the cause of death as accidental drowning, a Dubai police investigation was completed earlier today and Sridevi's body released to be flown home. Meanwhile, fans have been gathering outside her home in Mumbai to catch a final glimpse of her. What is clear is that her death has left India reeling in shock and fans around the world bereft. Her husband Boney and daughters Khushi and Janhvi have been robbed of a wife and a mother, but to Bollywood fans around the world, she was a screen legend, renowned for her doe eyes, impeccable comic timing and heartfelt performances. Off-screen, she was painfully shy and private, but when the cameras were trained on her, her alter ego came to life. It is ironic that her personal life and death are now the subject of such intense public scrutiny.
Bollywood actresses often live their lives in the harsh glare of the film industry's notoriously ageist spotlight, recruited young and consigned to roles as mothers from their twenties while their male counterparts continue as romantic heroes until a ripe age. Sridevi had that rare quality of longevity; she started her film career at the age of four, graduated to Hindi cinema in 1978 and despite a 15-year break to concentrate on her family life, her comeback – in 2012 with English Vinglish – was acclaimed. She was dubbed the first lady of Bollywood because she prompted directors and producers to think about female screen stars in their own right. Her star was still shining bright when she died, and her legacy will no doubt continue long beyond her untimely death.