By SUJOY DHAR
In a 1975 Hindi film an 11-year-old girl was sharing screen space with top southern actress Laxmi and the powerful Nadira and Om Prakash, grooving to the evergreen chartbuster “My heart is beating”.
Well the film was Julie starring Laxmi and Vikram that many would remember was quite a forbidden one for non-adults or teenagers to watch even when it was telecast on national television, owing to its sensuous songs and premarital love making scenes those days. But the 11-year-old Sridevi was spotted right then by film crazy Indians. She only returned to the Hindi filmdom with a bang in Himmatwala in 1983 opposite the evergreen Jeetendra to entertain and win hearts of cinegoers forever.
“I was 11 years old then, in the film I was supposed to have a boyfriend and I didn’t even know the meaning of the word. I was so innocent then,” Sridevi would recall later in an interview in Cine Blitz about Julie.
But the journey that began with Julie and Himmatwala in Bollywood continued for decades and Sridevi went on to become an icon, holding her own even when Madhuri Dixit arrived in the scene. Sridevi went on to become a legend owing to her unparalleled comic timing, dancing ability and acting chops.
Most of the Sridevi Hindi films in 80s were made in south and she dominated the scene, mostly playing heroine to Jeetendra while the films often had two heroines, with Jaya Prada playing the other one in films like Tohfa and Mawali among others.
Later she played opposite Amitabh Bachchan (Khuda Gawah) in several films and then Anil Kapoor was her hero in most of the films, whose brother Boney Kapoor she married and almost took a long sabbatical from silver screen before her explosive comeback in English Vinglish and her acclaimed work in her last film Mom.
Sridevi was a top actress in south much before her Hindi film debut and she acted in films made in all southern languages- Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada.
A comedian par excellence besides being the gorgeous scree diva, she is often hailed as the first female “superstar” of Bollywood who was also one of the highest paid actresses in the 1990s.
She bagged six Filmfare Awards as well. In 2013 she was also conferred the Padma Shri by the Government of India.
One of her films that every cinegoer cherished and gets hooked to even now is “Mr. India”, made in 1987 by Shekhar Kapur. While Anil Kapoor was the hero of this Bollywood science fiction superhero film, Sridevi as Hawa Hawai was the scene stealer in the film that also saw the actor’s superb comic timing.
Sridevi was born as Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan in her father’s hometown Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu (then Madras state) on 13 August 1963 to Tamil father Ayyapan and Telugu mother Rajeswari. Her mother was from Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. Her father was a lawyer. She has a sister and two stepbrothers.
She started acting when she was only four with the 1969 Tamil film Thunaivan. A year after Julie, in the Tamil film Moondru Mudichu in 1976 she was the lead actress sharing screen space with Rajinikanth in a film that also starred Kamal Hassan in an extended guest role. Sridevi was equally powerful opposite Kamal Hassan in the Hindi film Sadma in 1983 playing a mentally disbalanced girl who had lost her memory.
But top Bollywood films after her hit pairing with Jeetendra included Yash Chopra’s Chandni in 1989 where she was paired opposite Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna.The same year her comic timing was again in full bloom in the film ChaalBaaz and though it was a remake of 1973 Hema Malini starrer Seeta Aur Geeta, Sridevi brought a new life to her characters (double role) in the film.
Lamhe in 1991 directed again by Yash Chopra was hugely popular where she acted opposite Anil Kapoor. Playing the role of a young woman in love with an elderly man, the film also fetched her a Filmfare award.
After her marriage in 1996 with Bollywood producer Boney Kapoor when she settled down and had two daughters- Jahnvi and Khushi- her fans missed her screen presence for many years.
But then she made a comeback in a forgettable teleserial, only to explode again in the screen in the 2012 film English Vinglish which The Hollywood Reporter called a film in which “Sridevi triumphs in a gentle, but affecting, story of a woman’s awakening self-respect.”
Her last film Mom was a rape revenge drama but not the conventional one and she won hearts and critical acclaim as the vengeful and chilling step mother of a rape victim.
When the news of her death broke Sunday morning, generations of Indians were too shocked to digest it. The heart stopped beating for the Julie girl a little too early. But then she was forever be the Hawa Hawai of the Indian film industry like none other.
–INDIA BLOOMS NEWS SERVICE