Sridevi is back in the movies after a longish gap, but she doesn’t seem to be the same person we have been watching all these years. The 1980s star, who sparkles in English Vinglish, returned to the big screen as Sridevi 2.0 with a newish face and body and a welcome restraint. Sridevi’s realistic acting in Gauri Shinde’s debut film is a reminder of her early years in Tamil cinema, when she held her own against Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in the films of K. Balachander, P. Bharathiraja and Balu Mahendra. It helped that Shinde gave Sridevi a dignified landing and restricted her famed dancing skills to two scenes, including one in which she perfectly imitates Michael Jackson’s crotch-thrusting move.
As comebacks go, there is little to beat the respect accorded to Yoon Jeong-Hee by Lee Chang-Dong in his 2010 movie Poetry . He cast the popular South Korean star, who had a flourishing career in the 1960s and 70s, as a grandmother in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who is confronted with a terrible crime committed by her school-going grandson and his friends. Mija’s escape – and possible source of redemption – from her dreary life is a poetry writing class. Yoon displays occasional flashes of unease with the film’s sparse, observational style, but hers is a mostly moving performance that gathers immense power as the story trundles along.
Actors go on forever. Sexy young men mature into sexy old men. Young thespians grow into silver-haired thespians. On the screen, they never lose their magnetism, while off the screen, they never fail to excite the imagination of writers and directors. It’s different for actresses: they have shorter careers, they drop off the radar to handle spouses, children and occasionally divorce lawyers, and re-emerge with a great deal of fuss. The right script is dusted off; the right director is recruited; the release is timed for the Oscars. Wonderful or patronising? If this is the only way some of our favourite actresses can be back where they truly belong, so be it.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course: Catherine Deneuve has appeared in over a hundred films since 1957; Meryl Streep has never let family come in the way; Ellen Burstyn has been around since the fifties and has built up a flourishing career on American television. In India, actresses like Sharmila Tagore, Waheeda Rehman, Suhasini and Revathi remain connected to the movie business in different capacities. It’s the marquee names who suffer the most: their appeal is linked so strongly with their physical allure that their comebacks have to be carefully curated. Will viewers ever accept Madhuri Dixit as anything but an enchantress? No wonder she plays one in the upcoming Ishqiya 2 in her second comeback after the unsuccessful Aaja Nachle.
The poignancy of a director replacing his muse with a younger and more attractive woman is an unscripted takeaway from Pedro Almodovar’s Volver (2006). Volver means return in Spanish, and since it’s Un Film De Almodovar, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The multi-layered story, which explores themes of family secrets, punishment, redemption and death, is performed by a bevy of typically beautiful and passionate women, notably Penelope Cruz in the lead role of Raimunda. But the movie also has Carmen Maura, who headlined some of Almodovar’s best films, from his debut Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980) to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Maura did return to Almodovar’s cinematic universe after an 18-year gap, but as a ghost wandering between this life and the next. As movie goodbyes to muses who have outlived their utility go, it’s one of the best we’ve seen.