Opinion: Why I was forever in love with Sridevi

Sridevi turned out to be everything my young personality wanted - says Author, while remembering childhood games of mimicking. Photograph:( Reuters )

Delhi, India Feb 27, 2018, 06.56 AM (IST) Runa Mukherjee

A decade passes by sometimes before you remember someone you loved from your past. They don’t come to you because they aren’t in the news anymore but mostly because you have outgrown them. Only to realise one fine morning that you never really did.

I woke up to seven messages telling me the legendary Indian actress Sridevi was no more. As comprehension came, so did the sadness, suddenly and plenty of it. Because I was in love with her for as long as I could remember. 

Sridevi came to my life by chance. As the younger of two girls growing up in Patel Nagar, New Delhi, much of our lazy afternoons were spent discussing who gets what. I know, silly game. My elder sister being stereotypical to her role, gave me Sridevi and chose Madhuri Dixit as her favourite actress - the rules of the game were such that after being assigned these favourites, we weren’t allowed to change them. Ever. Or until we became adults and the silliness of the game struck us. 

So I felt stuck with who my sister had chosen for me. By default, I wanted the other actress more. But Sridevi turned out to be everything my young personality wanted. She was full of spunk. She was gorgeous. Her voice was strangely enough not adult-like, something that added innocence to the characters she played. Her comic timing was out of the world. I was smitten before I knew it.

Chaalbaaz has been the all-time favourite. All thanks to her. The strange concoction of a tortured, timid soul and her hilarious beer guzzling, bully sister full of gumption enthralled me. I couldn’t believe it was the same actor playing two women, so different and so endearing at the same time. It was very clear to my impressionable mind which twin I wanted to be like when I grew up.

Lamhe taught me the layers of love, unlike anything. I understood what the ‘younger Sridevi’ felt for her Kunwar Sa and still believed wholeheartedly in what the same man had for the ‘older Sridevi’ in the film. The complex affairs of their hearts lead to a turmoil in my young mind and heart too. That said, I don’t know how many times Didi and I danced to ‘Morni bagha ma bole’ for guests, parents and most importantly, for ourselves.

Sridevi was part of some of the most iconic films of our times. Sadma taught me to love, compassion and pain all at once. I watched it twenty times only because I wanted to watch Sridevi emote, the way only she can. Crying at the movies began there for me.

But the Yash Raj super hit Chandni eluded me till I turned twenty. Earlier, it seemed as a happy-go-lucky woman found love, found misfortune and found love again. A re-watching of the film made it clear what the story actually was. Of how women in our society are always at the mercy of what the society and the male ego dictates - the boyfriend’s accident puts him in a depression strong enough to overlook the women’s good work in helping him recover. He pushes her away but once he recovers completely, he decides he wants her back. I personally wanted Chandni to end up with Lalit, the way more nuanced and humane character played by Vinod Khanna in the film. Nonetheless, Sridevi was picture perfect for the role.

I don’t know where to stop - Khuda Gawah was the desi version of Arabian Nights with the most badass princess Bollywood could have. And Mr India was everything a child could want from a fantasy. 

But I grew up, and the 'roop ki rani' gently retired after her marriage to Boney Kapoor. A healthy dose of Ma’s filmy magazines lying about in the house and immaturity meant I had strong opinions about the person behind the stardom and how she chose to live her life. Add to that a new breed of actresses and I was all set to forget my childhood crush. 

But somewhere at the back of my mind, I always wanted to watch just one more film of hers. Soon Gumrah released; a splendid thriller where Sridevi showcased her most vulnerable side yet. A few years later, Judaai came - a ridiculous story about a wife marrying off her husband to another woman for money. The movie would be one of those I laugh about with friends if only it wasn’t made so deliciously entertaining by Sridevi as the eccentric, gold-digging wife.

Life went on and suddenly people were discussing ‘yesteryear star Sridevi’s comeback film’. English Vinglish reminded me just how much I loved this actor who ruled as the meek but gritty Shashi Godbole. Her prowess shone as a woman derided for not being smart or savvy enough, a tale too close to home for many Indian women.

Today, my childhood favourite is no more. A doting mother, Sridevi had been sharing her excitement for her daughter’s movie debut next month on Instagram. But alas, she has left behind a loving family, a legacy of fabulous films in several languages and millions of heartbroken fans. Too soon it is.

Today, I thank the sweet twist of fate that handed over this fabulous actor and a superb role model to a five-year-old me in a childish game. 

Between her and me, yeh lamhe, yeh pal, hum barso yaad karenge!
 

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

Runa Mukherjee

Runa Mukherjee Parikh is an author and independent journalist with several national and international news organisations. She mostly writes on women, queer issues, art and culture.