The sudden demise of veteran actor Sridevi came as a shocker for the entire nation which is struggling to come to terms with the big loss. Sridevi was an actor who impacted millions of lives in one way or the other and will remain alive through her immense body of work. While her fans are still overcoming the shock, here’s a brief on how she has charmed, mesmerised and kept her audience in awe, through a career spanning over four decades.
There were many Sridevis. There was, of course, the actual woman, who was reserved and spoke little. Then there were the avatars that we saw on screen, the most compelling encounters coming through the many dance numbers that she immortalised simply by being in them. She had the rare gift for conveying perfectly the mood of any song, says choreographer Saroj Khan, who worked with her in movies like Lamhe, Nagina and Mr India. “She could be funny, sexy, whatever the song demanded,” says Khan. Here is a by no means exhaustive list of our favourite avatars of Sri Two of the most loved songs featuring Sridevi are also the ones which are the best showcase of her unparalleled talent for sheer, joyous goofiness. In both Hawa hawai from Mr India and Na jaane kahan se aayi hai from ChaalBaaz, Sridevi mixes energetic dance moves with her personal style of physical comedy that involved fumbles and stumbles and a rapid-fire sequence of outrageous facial expressions. Witness the apologetic grimace as she turns around and accidentally slaps a back-up dancer in Hawa hawai, which is quickly succeeded by embarrassment and mischief, all in three seconds. And was there anyone else working in Indian cinema at the time who could have pulled off the silly umbrella twirling and break dancing of the ChaalBaaz song — all while wearing ridiculous overalls and a raincoat — and still come off as utterly loveable and charming?
The full force of Sridevi’s seductive powers was first felt in Jaanbaaz. It was only a guest appearance, with most of her screen-time going into the song Har kisiko nahi milta, in which she swayed on a beach, hair rippling in the sea breeze and chiffon sari hugging her curves. The seduction was turned up by several degrees in Kaatein nahi kat te in Mr India with the actor, once more draped in clingy chiffon, dancing with an abandon not seen before. Director Shekhar Kapur threw in some rain for good measure and in turn received the gratitude of a nation of dazed and sweaty-palmed men (and women, we’re sure).With her saucer eyes and impish grin, no one did mischief better than Sridevi. Most of the songs in Chandni are a good showcase for how well she played the gamine, but watch her particularly in Mere haathon mein nau nau choodiya hain. The song is charged with energy, thanks to the leading lady’s antics. With her quicksilver moves and the rapid switches she made from insouciant to seductive to funny, Sridevi made the song a classic.
Sridevi always cut a striking figure, but never more than when she was conveying rage through dance. The otherwise forgettable Roop ki Rani, Choron ka Raja will be remembered for the song Dushman dil ka. With her feet pounding the floor and her eyes staring daggers into the camera, the actor gave an electrifying performance that lifted the movie, if only for a few minutes. A similar rage was conveyed a few years earlier in Main teri dushman from Nagina, another fairly mediocre film that only lives on as a cult classic, thanks in large part to Sridevi’s convincing Danse Macabre as the snake who is furiously trying to throw off the power exerted on her by the evil sapera (Amrish Puri) and his minions.
ChaalBaaz was a remake of Hema Malini’s 1973 hit, Seeta Aur Geeta, but what sets it apart from her predecessor’s performance as the outspoken and sharp twin Geeta, is Sridevi’s turn as Manju. In an iconic scene, she is accosted by creditors on her way home. On the spot, she spins a yarn about her mother suffering from cancer — her tearful big doll eyes are now trained on three unwise men. “Zyaada se zyaada log yehi kahenge na…na doodh ka bill chuka saki, na kapde ka, na…aap ka kya tha?” This tiny sequence is not just about clever writing, but it showcases her comic timing, and her versatility when it came to physical comedy — whether it was just her eyes, brows, lips, or her errant arms that were inclined to fly out and unwittingly slap men during dance routines.
In Lamhe, even though her role as Pallavi is brief, Viren (Anil Kapoor) cannot help but fall for not just her beauty, or grace, but her candid conversation — often mistaken for simplicity in Hindi cinema. “Jab tum udaas hote ho, toh kya karte ho?”, she asks him. When he says he doesn’t feel sad, she allows herself the tiniest knowing smile. When Sridevi returns to the screen as Pallavi’s daughter, Pooja, she revels in her youth and sensuality, but who can forget that moment when she finds out that Viren had sketched her mother’s portrait and not hers? Only moments ago, she had hugged her doll as she hummed the beginning of Meri bindiya, and in the duration of a song, transformed herself from a love-struck girl into the woman of Viren’s dreams.
In Khuda Gawah, in that nearly 10-minute long opening sequence of the Buzkashi chase, we know it is Sridevi in a male garb, and what an absolute thrill it is when her headgear comes off! Our faces are mirrored in Badshah Khan’s (Amitabh Bachchan) amazement and disbelief, and as he experiences love at first sight, so do we. In both Lamhe and Khuda Gawah, Sridevi plays the mother and daughter, and in spite of the identical appearance of these characters, portrays them with a spirit and vulnerability that is unique to each one. There is no dissonance, no conflict in these performances — we are watching an actor at the top of her game. When Sridevi gives you two for the price of one, there is nothing to do but be grateful and say thank you.
According to officials at the Indian Consulate in Dubai, Sridevi’s autopsy was conducted on Sunday at the Al Qusais Hospital. Her body is expected to be flown to Mumbai on a chartered aircraft on Monday for the last rites