The waterworks haven’t ended. It has been more than 12 hours since the news of Sridevi‘s sudden death spread across the country and the tears just won’t stop. Sridevi was (it still feels weird to refer to her in the past tense) a legend. The first female superstar, one of the few actresses who managed to bridge the wage gap in an industry as inherently misogynistic as Bollywood, that woman was a trailblazer.
The first movie I watched of hers was ChaalBaaz. My mother made sure we get the VCR of this Sridevi, Sunny Deol and Rajinikanth starrer so that I get to experience what she did when she saw Ramesh Sippy‘s Seeta Aur Geeta for the first time, back in the ’70s. In a movie that starred two male superstars, it was Sridevi who walked away with all the accolades, with Filmfare even saying that she made “Sunny Deol and Rajnikant look like sidekicks in the film.”
Her particularly brilliant knack of playing double roles was showcased once again in Yash Chopra‘s Lamhe. Considered as one of the best films made by the auteur, Lamhe was ahead of its time and Sridevi was ahead of everyone else. Doing a movie with very subtle shades of incest was a bold move (which she admitted herself, in an interview with Rajeev Masand), but the superstar was never afraid to experiment. She was the epitome of what is now known as the ‘Yash Raj heroine’. The chiffon sarees, the dancing in the snow, the traditional but not submissive spirit of an Indian woman – all the ‘YRF tropes’ were first seen in Chandni. One of the highest grossing movies of all times.
Before ChaalBaaz of course, there was Mr. India, the greatest science fiction movie India has made. With powerful characters Anil Kapoor‘s Arun Varma and Amrish Puri‘s Mogambo (*ICONIC*), it really wasn’t easy to make the female lead stand out. And yet, she suited up, pasted a mustache on that gorgeous face and proceeded to deliver one of the best comedy scenes we have seen in cinema. Charlie Chaplin would doff his hat.
Comedy is still such a small part of her vast legacy. No one can forget the last scene in Sadma when Kamal Haasan loses his mind trying to make her remember their relationship and she just remains indifferent after regaining her memory. Even her work in films which are considered ‘campy’ in this day and age – Nagina and it’s sequel Nigahen: Nagina Part II are performances that constitute iconic elements in Indian pop-culture. Sridevi basically made naagin dance a thing. Yep, that same step your uncle loves to do at weddings when he’s four pegs down.
Most of the newer generation will remember Sridevi for her recent work – English Vinglish (after which, the media dubbed her the ‘Meryl Streep of India’) and the rape revenge drama – Mom. But strangely for me, her role in Judaai will always remain unforgettable.
Judaai was a ridiculous film with the most unbelievable plot-line and a lead heroine who was also the primary antagonist. Sridevi as Kajal was a gold digger who sold her husband off to a younger, richer woman in order to buy herself a bungalow and an adorable dog. An unlikable character on paper was made into a fun, sad, a little irritating but extremely relatable protagonist in the film, just because it was played by this legend.
Her real life persona though, couldn’t be more different. She was shy, soft-spoken and a little tough to interview as she was an introvert. But the moment the cameras were on, Sridevi turned into dynamite. It’s still difficult to believe that we won’t see the new phase of her career pan out as it had started on such a beautiful note. I wish all the best to her beautiful daughters and all the strength in the world to her husband. Sridevi’s legacy will live on, but her loss will never be replaced. There will be a lot of darkness now that Chandni is gone.