In the last few years, Sridevi’s bold gaze softened. She barely spoke to the press. And, in a rare moment of weakness, so unlike the Sridevi of the early years, she even let tears stream down her face.
This moment came when she thanked her Pakistani co-stars in the movie Mom. Now, fortunately or unfortunately, it will always be known as her last film.
When Sridevi celebrated her 50th birthday a few years ago, she had spent nearly 5 decades in the Indian film industry too. How many actors in the current generation can boast of this honour? But did she really choose acting as her profession? No one can really know.
Sridevi’s life revolved around the film industry – sometimes she seemed passionate about her career, and sometimes she treated her career like a resolve she had reached with fate.
And now, a day after she passed away, tributes pour in. Some celebrate her, talking about how compassionate she was. Others asking if the pressure to always look good killed her. We’ll never know the answer this.
Sridevi, the ‘first woman superstar of Indian cinema’ as she is called sometimes, made her debut at the age of four. Could a four-year-old really enjoy the tiresome, day-long shoots actors are often subject to? It’s possible the child grew in the industry alone, completely out of touch with the world outside.
Her ambitious mother, Rajeshwari, was responsible for creating ‘brand Sridevi’ that would shine in the films of at least five languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi). Telugu-speaking Rajeshwari was much like mothers of most Bollywood leading ladies of that generation, who ruled their daughter’s career with an iron fist.
In a sense, Sridevi was much like Jayalalithaa. She knew her mother had decided her fate at the tender age of four, when she probably couldn’t decide whether she herself wanted to wear a frock or a skirt. Probably at a personal level, there were showdowns. But that was never for anyone outside to see.
Like all leading ladies of her times, she was tight-lipped about what she had to go through to land a role. Was she a victim of the casting couch? We will never know now. Because, no matter what, she focused on transforming herself onscreen, and maintaining her market share to keep the industry’s coffers full. It gave her power.
She always chose to deliver performances that would mask her sexual energy. She was sensual, but never explicit. There were songs picturised in the rain, which were aesthetically pleasing and sexy. A rare combination that.
In her early years, Sridevi looked older than her years. In films such as Moonram Pirai and Padinaru Vayadinile, she would mesmerize the audience with her mischief and appeal. It was only a matter of time before she conquered the industries down south, and stepped into the Hindi film industry. Sridevi lit up the screen, delivered the goods and kept the cash registers ringing.
In her lived an insecure child who never wanted to open herself up to the world, for the world would see her vulnerability. Her large eyes clearly spelled the message – ‘don’t come close to me’.
The few men who did succeed in coming close to her acted as pillars of strength for her for a while. When she married Boney Kapoor, she left her successful career behind to raise her family.
Was she ever at home in the industry? She looked uncomfortable in social gatherings and in interviews. She rarely made statements to the press, limiting herself to speaking only when she promoted her films.
Maybe we only saw the real Sridevi in the many roles she played. A versatile actress, she could inhabit the skin of any character and make us, the audience, truly believe we were watching the lives of Viji, Chandini, Mayil or Nehalata unfold before us.
Theories abound what may have ‘really caused’ her death, her personal life and her roles in the industry.
Five decades have passed, and even though a whole generation grew up watching her on screen, we will now never know the real Sridevi.