Opinion: Sridevi reigned in NE India where Bollywood movies are not popular

Sridevi's beguiling eyes, scintillating screen presence and acting prowess made her one of the most sought-after actors in the Hindi film industry. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Guwahati, Assam, India Feb 25, 2018, 07.24 AM (IST) Patricia Mukhim

This morning we all woke up to the shocking news of Sridevi’s death. She was one of the most enduring and versatile actors of Bollywood. Sridevi made a comeback after a self-imposed sabbatical of many years when she went through the rigours of a somewhat controversial marriage to film director and producer, Boney Kapoor, followed by those child-bearing years. Indeed Sridevi’s death at 54 has left many of us fans shell-shocked. You don’t die at that age if you are slim and trim and have an evidently well-maintained figure. But perhaps that’s the problem – having to look your best always for the papparazi and for Bollywood so you can continue to act, for acting itself becomes the adrenalin that pumps up the ‘stars’ and their glitzy lives. But who knows the stress of living on a circumscribed diet and subjecting the body to so many make-overs to not look one’s age.  

They say Bollywood unites India like nothing else does. For someone, India’s North East where Hollywood movies were a staple, those of us who watched ‘Hindi’ movies (the term Bollywood had not yet gained currency then) were looked askance by our peers in school. And if you studied in an English medium school then you don’t discuss Hindi movies with your classmates but would listen to them holding forth about Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. Many teenagers my age sported the Cleopatra fringe too. But my mother was, for reasons best known to her, a Hindi movie buff and she would take me for all of them. That’s how I too got hooked to Bollywood although we didn’t understand half of what was happening since we didn’t speak Hindi. But we laughed at Johnny Walker and Mehmood’s jokes and wept buckets when we watched Dosti. Cinema is not so much about dialogues but about conveying emotions through body language and we had plenty of that in Bollywood. My mother passed on but I transferred my love for Hindi movies to my kids.

So when Sridevi returned with English-Vinglish at age 49 she became a trailblazer. And the movie was spectacular because it resonated with so many of us who struggle with English and are looked down upon by those who speak the language flawlessly, courtesy their schooling and elitist upbringing.  In the movie, Sridevi takes up the challenge of learning English and she did to the amazement of all. I love this part – when women stop becoming victims and stand up for what they want from life. So, Sridevi, you touched many hearts and I know of many who enrolled in personality development courses – both men and women after watching English-Vinglish for the simple reason that we live in a society of hypocrites – as if English makes a man or woman. But, well, if one speaks and writes English perhaps the circle of acquaintances grows bigger. If that matters!      

At the personal level, I loved the movie ‘Mom’. It’s a movie that many mothers found inspiring. It’s a movie that defies the conventional Hindustani type of household where everything is near perfect and families live life along expected lines. Here Sridevi is married to a man who has a daughter who studies at a college she is teaching – a step-daughter, Arya who could never accept a stepmother and believes it is a disrespect to her late mother’s memory. But when Arya is raped and thrown into a gutter after she was waylaid by a classmate (who fancied her but who she thwarted) and his relative, a local bully and his henchmen. Arya was found by a morning walker who admits her to a hospital.

When Sridevi was informed of this incident she was livid and asked Arya for details so she can file an FIR at the local police station which in itself was a tall order. The case comes up for hearing but as usual, falls flat due to the poor investigation. It was then that Sridevi vows revenge and teams up with a private detective to kill the perpetrators one by one. Only Sridevi could have carried out that role so brilliantly and meticulously to avenge the rape of her step-child. What happens in the process is what the movie is all about but Mom is about the untapped strength of every woman. It is said that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ I would say a woman wronged can wreak havoc in her pursuit of justice. That’s what symbolises Kali and Durga too.  

In her second avatar, Sridevi did full justice to her roles. Of course, we all loved her body moves in the lilting Hawa-Haiwai of Mr. India and other movies before that but they never made that lasting impact.

In November last year, Sridevi was at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Goa. My son, Merlvin an actor who two Khasi movies ‘Ri-Homeland of Uncertainty and ‘Onaatah’ won national awards and who was a jury member for the Indian Panorama selection of feature and non-feature films met Sridevi and received a commendation plaque from her. He could not stop talking about how honoured he was to have met such a professional actor.

It’s hard to believe that Sridevi is no longer with us. It's sadder that she will not be able to see her elder daughter Jahnvi’s debut film Dhadak, directed by Karan Johar and due for release in July this year. But that’s life, whose other side is death. Sridevi’s memories will live on through her films. Rest in Peace wherever you are!

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Patricia Mukhim

Patricia Mukhim is Editor, The Shillong Times and a columnist with several national news dailies and portals. She has been an intrepid political commentator for over two decades.