Making of the Divas – Sridevi

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Just when we thought that the South would take a respite from ruling the industry where Vyjayanthimala and Hema Malini have been dominating for decades with brief concessions to Mumtaz and another Southern topper, Rekha – we entered the Sridevi era. Since then, we have had Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Deepika Padukone in top slots too, but the Sridevi era was unique in many ways.

Above all, in the matter of comebacks in central roles, Sridevi has been pretty cerebral and therefore lucky. Her 2012 English Vinglish was an adroit choice, and the actress dared to work with a first-time director of non-mainstream sensibilities, Gauri Shinde, and choose the role of a mother who was not a typical weeping or melodramatic specimen.

In fact, the character moved from submissive to assertive, despite (or probably because of?) a changed cultural backdrop. And even in the submissive phase, she was an achiever, making delicious laddoos to get a small income!

Sridevi scored where other contemporaries and juniors did not when they attempted to ‘return’. Madhuri Dixit-Nene, who dethroned her from the top slot in the early 1990s, Karisma Kapoor and Manisha Koirala, and later Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan were other toppers who came croppers, purely because of a substandard vehicle or vehicles to return, thanks to a lack of judgement and because they had not probably not cottoned on to a changing grammar.

We do not know if it was husband Boney Kapoor who influenced her choice. But we would gladly pass the benefit of doubt to Sridevi herself as well, and her ever-pragmatic approach to her career.

Phase One: A child-woman from the South

Sorry for the inappropriate pun-of-sorts, but when Baby Shree Amma Yanger was born in August 1963 in Sivakasi (the town where the cracker industry is based), fireworks in the future were a given! Sridevi was only four when she made her debut in the Tamil film Kandhan Karunai, later doing films across Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada. Her first adult role was in Moondru Mudichu (1976). A year earlier, she had played a child artiste in the Hindi film Julie, which technically was her Hindi debut.

Phase Two: The Hindi – South phase

This talented actress got a firm footing in Hindi films, not with her sensitive but flop debut Solwa Sawan (1978) but as Thunder Thighs in the musical potboiler Himmatwala (1983) with numerous similar films to follow till 1987. Of these, Mawaali, Justice Chowdhury, Tohfa, Maqsad and Ghar Sansaar were successful to various degrees.

However, our feeling was that the mainstream Mumbai filmmakers rightly paid more heed to Sridevi’s fortes – her chameleonic expertise at comedy, drama, songs and dances, and the fact that she simply had the most mobile face among newcomers then.

Of course, to seemingly confirm their conviction about her talent, there was yet another (flop) film Sadma, presented by N.C. Sippy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, no less, in which she played a traumatized and mentally-backward woman.

The genuine ascent had begun, and Sridevi had tapered her South assignments too. In 1986, Sridevi made a mark in the blockbuster Karma, and especially in the pivotal role of the year’s biggest hit Nagina.

Just when we thought that the South would take a respite from ruling the industry where Vyjayanthimala and Hema Malini have been dominating for decades with brief concessions to Mumtaz and another Southern topper, Rekha – we entered the Sridevi era. Since then, we have had Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Deepika Padukone in top slots too, but the Sridevi era was unique in many ways. Above all, in the matter of comebacks in central roles, Sridevi has been pretty cerebral and therefore lucky. Her 2012 English Vinglish was an adroit choice, and the actress dared to work with a first-time director of non-mainstream sensibilities, Gauri Shinde, and choose the role of a mother who was not a typical weeping or melodramatic specimen. In fact, the character moved from submissive to assertive, despite (or probably because of?) a changed cultural backdrop. And even in the submissive phase, she was an achiever, making delicious laddoos to get a small income! Sridevi scored where other contemporaries and juniors did not when they attempted to ‘return’. Madhuri Dixit-Nene, who dethroned her from the top slot in the early 1990s, Karisma Kapoor and Manisha Koirala, and later Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan were other toppers who came croppers, purely because of a substandard vehicle or vehicles to return, thanks to a lack of judgement and because they had not probably not cottoned on to a changing grammar. We do not know if it was husband Boney Kapoor who influenced her choice. But we would gladly pass the benefit of doubt to Sridevi herself as well, and her ever-pragmatic approach to her career. Phase One: A child-woman from the South Sorry for the inappropriate pun-of-sorts, but when Baby Shree Amma Yanger was born in August 1963 in Sivakasi (the town where the cracker industry is based), fireworks in the future were a given! Sridevi was only four when she made her debut in the Tamil film Kandhan Karunai, later doing films across Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada. Her first adult role was in Moondru Mudichu (1976). A year earlier, she had played a child artiste in the Hindi film Julie, which technically was her Hindi debut. Phase Two: The Hindi – South phase This talented actress got a firm footing in Hindi films, not with her sensitive but flop debut Solwa Sawan (1978) but as Thunder Thighs in the musical potboiler Himmatwala (1983) with numerous similar films to follow till 1987. Of these, Mawaali, Justice Chowdhury, Tohfa, Maqsad and Ghar Sansaar were successful to various degrees. However, our feeling was that the mainstream Mumbai filmmakers rightly paid more heed to Sridevi’s fortes – her chameleonic expertise at comedy, drama, songs and dances, and the fact that she simply had the most mobile face among newcomers then. Of course, to seemingly confirm their conviction about her talent, there was yet another (flop) film Sadma, presented by N.C. Sippy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, no less, in which she played a traumatized and mentally-backward woman. The genuine ascent had begun, and Sridevi had tapered her South assignments too. In 1986, Sridevi made a mark in the blockbuster Karma, and especially in the pivotal role of the year’s biggest hit Nagina.

– Bollywood Hungama