It was the winter of ’88 and it was our first overnight school trip to Nasik – few 8-year olds attempting to master the steps of Hawa Hawai. Mr India had taken the country by storm and Sridevi with her dancing skills and 1000 expressions had stolen every girl and boy’s heart. Her expressive, lovely doe-eyes, her graceful movements, her impeccable comic timing, her fearless attitude – all combined in that 6-minute number, put us all in awe of her forever.
Little did we girls know then what a fine actress she was; we were not really exposed much to the world of Tamil and Telugu cinema, where she was already an established actress. I had watched none of her previous films or probably have minimal recollection of watching any before Mr. India.
Mr. India is a movie that will always remain close to my heart for many, many reasons – the kids, the story, Anil Kapoor’s innocence, Satish Kaushik’s memorable Calendar, Amrish Puri as the most favourite villain Mogambo; but over and above all – for Sridevi’s stunning portrayal of reporter Seema. It was a multi-faceted character – a fine example of how a woman should be – fearless, independent, and compassionate. There was no doubt why she was such a hit amongst the kids, especially girls.
As I became her fan, I started to watch more of her movies and few years later ended up watching Sadma, the first time in Tamil (Moondram Pirai) – thanks to the awesome films that DD National showcased on the Sunday afternoon slot at 1:30 p.m. I cried like crazy and kept asking my parents why won’t Viji recognise Cheenu, he took care of her when she had lost her memory, someone get her memory back, make her get off from the train and remember him. The irony dawned on me many years later, when I was old enough to understand. Sadma was one of the most heart-breaking films I have ever watched; the credit for that rests with Sridevi and Kamal Hassan for their outstanding portrayals of Viji and Cheenu respectively.
I ended up watching many of Sridevi’s hits before Mr India, well after the release of Mr. India, thanks to VHS rental libraries in those days. Then came Chalbaaz and Chandni, and though the latter is not one of my favourite films, I can never forget how beautiful she looked in those gorgeous chiffon sarees which almost became her trademark. Remember the song – Tere Mere Hothon Pe
Chaalbaaz was a complete riot and Sridevi single-handedly overshadowed a star cast boasting of Anupam Kher, Rajnikant, Anu Kapoor, Shakti Kapoor and Rohini Hattangady; hell, she even managed to get Sunny Deol to dance! Na Jaane Kahan se Aayi – The song stayed on top of the charts only cause of her amazing dancing skills and expressions!
In 1991, Yash Chopra gave us a path breaking movie in Lamhe. The movie was well ahead of its times and probably why people could not digest the plot line; but I loved it the first time I watched it and l Iove it even now. The star cast was excellent, the script and dialogues simple, yet poignant and it showcased love in innumerable forms. I cannot pick a single favourite song from the album – all numbers equally hummable. I can’t recollect the umpteen number of times we performed to ‘Morni’ at various occasions! Sridevi again pulled off the impossible – she outshone all the heavy-weights in the star cast that included Waheedaji. Her portrayal of Pooja stole your heart and you kept cheering for her to win her Kunwarji’s love! And even in that serious storyline – the comedian in her struck gold with an equally fantastic actor Anupam Kher; the result was a laughter riot in this medley from the 50-60s.
Her comic timing was exemplary and probably her most underrated talent – just watch this Charlie Chaplin act she pulled off with ease in Mr. India or her hilarious act from the song in Chaalbaaz; you will know what I mean.
As much as she was known for her fine acting skills, she was an extremely accomplished dancer and I will just let you all watch a few snippets from her ‘Tandav Nritya’ performances in some of her films.
She did not give any major hits in the late 90s and then took a sabbatical. I tried watching some episodes of Malini Iyer but I could not continue beyond a couple of episodes; as I did not want to lose any memories of her that were so ingrained in me while growing up.
I made my peace that she had retired for good because not every superstar can reinvent themselves like Amitabh did later in his career. How wrong I was about her! Come 2012 and she came back with a bang as Mrs. Deshpande, aided by a lovely cast, terrific script, fresh director and superb soundtrack; Sridevi took me back to my childhood days. As I watched her dance to the beats of Navrai Majhi, she had wooed me back! I realised that the kid in me had never left and I was back in being in awe of her!
I watched English Vinglish – First Day First show in the Theatres and realised how much I had missed her in the movies. Madhuri was/is my favourite (and there is a loads of Marathi bias in that fandom), but I loved Sridevi to bits and her playing a Marathi lady from Pune was the ultimate icing on the cake.
Since then I have been eagerly waiting to see her in new roles and redefine her career as Amitabh did; and then suddenly out of nowhere, the news of her demise hit me on Saturday night. I can’t quite understand how someone you have never met can bring that feeling of emptiness in you once they are gone. Sridevi was such a huge part of my growing up – especially made those late 80s and early 90s so memorable. Her death brought back all those lovely associated memories and I realised after all these years, I can still recollect most of them vividly.
I still cannot believe she is gone. For the next few weeks, I will go back to browsing YouTube for her videos and movies, and listening to Hawa Hawai in a loop – and when the song plays, that memory of us 8-year olds trying to master the dance step (5:44 onwards in the clip above) from that song will keep coming back.
You will continue to rule our memories dearest Sridevi, even when you are long gone, because you were the only Queen that ruled our hearts!