New Delhi: In what was the highest compliment paid to a female actor in the late 1980s, film and trade industry members referred to Sridevi, then reigning box office queen, as the female Amitabh Bachchan. In simple terms, it meant she could pull audiences in on her own at a time when women were mere decorative pieces in films centred on an unapologetic sense of masculinity.
The 54-year old actor died on Saturday night after a massive cardiac arrest in Dubai where she was attending a family wedding, leaving behind a solid body of work to be cherished.
Starting her career as a child artist in M.A. Thirumugham’s devotional film Thunaivan at the age of four, Sridevi was a veteran in all four south Indian languages—Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada—even before she became a leading lady. She made her Hindi film debut as a child artist in Julie (1975), the musical blockbuster on unwed pregnancy starring Lakshmi.
Her first adult role came at the age 13 with the Tamil film Moondru Mudichu (1976). A string of films in Tamil and Telugu followed, including 16 Vayathinile (1977), Sigappu Rojakkal (1978), Varumayin Niram Sivappu (1980), Meendum Kokila (1981), Premabhishekam (1981), Moondram Pirai (1982), Aakhari Poratam (1988), Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari (1990) and Kshana Kshanam (1991).
Sridevi’s journey up north was far more chequered: she made her debut as a lead actress in Solva Sawan (1978) and remained known for a spate of South Indian style commercial potboilers in the 1980s, films like Himmatwala (1983), Mawaali (1983), Tohfa (1984), Naya Kadam (1984), Maqsad (1984), Masterji (1985), Nazrana (1987), Waqt Ki Awaz (1988).
To be sure, there was the occasional Sadma (1983) too, Balu Mahendru’s drama co-starring Kamal Haasan where she played a woman who regresses to childhood after a head injury.
And the box office viability was evident-Anil Kapoor-starrer Mr India (1987) is said to have been sold largely on her name, since Kapoor was relatively unknown then. But things only truly changed with Yash Chopra’s Chandni (1989), a hardcore picturesque romance that put Sridevi right on top.
Meanwhile, blockbusters like Chaalbaaz (1989) were complemented with performance-oriented roles like Lamhe(1991) and Khuda Gawah (1992) and even though, Sridevi had lost the magic touch by the late 1990s, there wasn’t anyone else to take the place.
Marriage in 1997 and a fifteen-year sabbatical later, she returned with Gauri Shinde’s comedy drama English Vinglish (2012) and was last seen in the drama thriller Mom last year. A recipient of the Padma Shri, she is survived by her husband, producer Boney Kapoor and daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi. The former is slated to make her movie debut this year in Karan Johar’s Dhadak, a remake of Marathi blockbuster Sairat.
Film figures poured in condolences soon after news of Sridevi’s death spread.
“She pretty much grew up in the movies," said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai, whose favourite Sridevi performance is the Sadma original, Moondram Pirai. The climax, he added, is etched in his mind. “The transition from the south to the north was not easy, especially because she quit to explore a larger market, when she was at the peak in Tamil and Telugu cinema. The only person who’d done that before her was Vyajanthimala. Hema Malini, on the other hand, had started her career in Hindi."
Heartbroken & shocked to hear that my all time favourite #Sridevi is no more. May god give peace to her soul & strength to the family #RIP," wrote actor Preity Zinta.
“I have no words. My condolences to the family , friends and fans of cinemas darling...Srideviji," said actor Anushka Sharma on Twitter.