7 March 2018

Archives: Sridevi

This wasn’t the post I’d planned for today. But with one thing and another, that post wasn’t complete. Besides, the events of the last week have been preying on my mind. When I was writing a tribute to Sridevi, I mentioned I’d been surprised to meet a quiet, unassuming woman sitting quietly on the sets, waiting for her co-stars to arrive – a full two hours after the shoot was supposed to start. I didn’t remember much else about the interview, other than that she transformed into someone completely different once the director called ‘Action!’ So, this weekend, I rooted around to see if I still had a copy of the interview. I did.

A long time ago, giving in to long-time-reader Harvey’s exhortations, I’d published an old interview of mine – Sanjana Kapoor. As I have said earlier, I was never a film journalist, but was forced to go interview her by my boss, whom I referred to as Dragon Lady. I was a mere trainee at the time, and she gave short shrift to my excuses. If I wanted film journalism to be different, she said, I’d to be ready to make the difference. Sigh. But trainees we were, and ours not to reason why; ours but to do and die.
So off I went. But that was not my first ever interview with a film star, even if Sanjana herself didn't identify as one. No, it was Sridevi, who was then at the top of her game, having forced the Hindi film industry to look past their bias against South Indian actors. Their initial mockery of her had only spurred her to achieve total stardom – one day, she must have vowed, they would acknowledge her as worthy of their acceptance. She did, and they did.

The violent eighties may not have been a great time for female actors to make a mark with their onscreen histrionics, but Sridevi carved out a unique niche for herself. After an initial crop of films in which she shared the screen with assorted pots, props, crazy costumes and Jeetendra, Sridevi searched out interesting characters to portray. Whatever her role, from dancing amidst pots and pans to mouthing inane lyrics to superlatively funny songs, she made an impact. She was here to stay. And rule. While interviews were few and far between (the star was famously reclusive) there was never a month went by without Sridevi gracing at least one magazine cover; without at least one speculative article that quoted everybody but her.
I don’t usually revisit my writing, so reading this long-ago article of mine was a rather strange experience. Written long before I’d actually begun to form a style of my own, parts of it are cringe-worthy now that I read them from the vantage point of age and experience. So, I beg an anticipatory pardon for the callowness of youth.

Also, I had no control over the title [it was the work of some sub-editor, whom I would have liked to meet in an alley on a dark night] because if one thing Sridevi was not, it was ‘Prima Donna’. On the contrary. She was the most accommodating, professional, and uncomplaining actor – male or female, with the exception of Amitabh Bachchan.

However, reading the article also refreshed my memory of the day – her unfailing politeness, her concern for whether I’d breakfast or not, her offer of tea or a cold drink, her reserve, alternating with the genuine smile that lit her face and sparkled in her eyes, the sheer charisma and self-confidence she exuded once the camera went on… I remember the heat of the studio and my camera man’s impatience as he waited; he had another event to cover that day. Yet, once she posed for him, he forgot to be huffy. Such was her aura. Most of all, I remember how quiet she was, how unassuming, how easy to overlook because she never sought any attention. In fact, she seemingly didn’t like it. At least that’s the impression I got then, and re-reading the article didn’t change that long-held viewpoint either.  

This then, is the Sridevi I met.  (You might have to magnify it to 200% to be able to read it.) 

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