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A file photo of actor Sridevi. She died in Dubai on Saturday. Photo: AP
A file photo of actor Sridevi. She died in Dubai on Saturday. Photo: AP

Sridevi and the death of a superstar

What made Sridevi so enchanting was a unique carefree sense of fun she exuded on screen

I was one of the lucky few people who did not experience the disgraceful bits of the media coverage of Sridevi’s death firsthand. I had woken up in the morning to the news of the tragedy on WhatsApp messages, and my wife and I immediately decided that we needed to share with our 22-year-old daughter what Sridevi had meant to us when we were her age; she had to know. So that was the way our family spent that evening, watching a film in which Sridevi had captivated me and my would-be wife, nearly three decades ago. We missed all the nasty stuff on the news channels.

It was only the next day that I learnt from friends about the fake reportage; the speculation that verged on the insane. That when there were reports that traces of alcohol had been found in her stomach, channels carried shots from old films where her character is shown drinking. That there was lurid computer imagery of Sridevi lying in a bathtub. That, on one channel, a reporter had climbed into a bathtub and tried to prove that you couldn’t drown in one.

I googled “Sridevi death conspiracy theories". In addition to serving up links directly related to my query, the ever-helpful Google algorithm offered “People also ask" questions. These included: “Is Sridevi died?"(a person who doesn’t take WhatsApp messages at face value); “How was died Shridevi?" (a curious mind); “Who died of heart attack?" (someone who overheard half a conversation); “Which actress die?" (someone who overheard the other half of the conversation); and “Is Arjun Kapoor son of Sridevi?" This last one is a really in-depth question, and Google has provided a really in-depth answer: “He is the nephew of actors Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor and producer Sandeep Marwah, and the first-cousin of actress Sonam Kapoor, actor Mohit Marwah and producer Rhea Kapoor. He has a sister Anshula Kapoor. The actress Sridevi is his stepmother, and he also has two half-sisters, Janhvi and Khushi Kapoor." Whoever asked that must be scurrying for cover.

I checked Twitter and surveyed the rantings. The most outlandish one I found linked Sridevi’s death with actress Divya Bharti’s in 1993: “Both Divya Bharti and Sridevi came from south. Both were said to be similar. When Divya Bharti died, it was said that she fell from a building in effect of alcohol. Many people believe that Sridevi was behind it. Sridevi death =25th feb= Divya Bharti birthday." I went to Wikipedia: yes, 25 February was Divya Bharti’s birthday. But what sort of brain would have made that sort of connection? In fact, what exactly was this person implying?

I saw that President Ram Nath Kovind had mentioned three Sridevi starrers in his condolence tweet: Moondram Pirai, Lamhe and English Vinglish. These were very intelligent selections: the films spanned 30 years, were critically well-received, showcased Sridevi’s acting skills, and balanced north and south. But it was interesting, I thought, that when my wife and I had been trying to decide what quintessential Sridevi film our daughter should watch, we had not thought of any of these three. Sridevi had burst upon our consciousness when we had been teenagers, and what had made her so enchanting (and so sexy) was a unique carefree sense of fun she exuded on screen. She was just sparkling, sizzling, superfragilistic fun, and we wanted our daughter to experience that. The fun. Our choice came down to Mr India and Chaalbaaz. I remembered some 40 of us classmates in business school going to watch Mr India in a horde, whistling lustily and dancing in the aisles. We settled for Chaalbaaz because my wife and I had watched it together in 1990 and enjoyed it hugely, and there were two Sridevis in it, so twice as much fun.

Of course, the film has not aged well, and we had to resist the urge sometimes to fast forward, but whenever Sridevi was on screen—whether as the timid Anju, or the devil-may-care Manju, it was pure magic. And we knew that our daughter now knew what incredible joy this extraordinary actress had gifted to millions and millions of hearts with her immeasurable talent.

Sandipan Deb is editorial director, swarajyamag.com.

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