Joie De Vivre defined Sridevi

Sri Devi, Indian Film Institute

Even as one tries to come to terms with Sridevi’s demise the one thought that is repeating itself is, is she really gone? How can someone who was posting pictures of herself and her loved ones from a family wedding be really gone in the space of a few minutes? How much did she suffer in her last minutes? How did she go? Speculation is rife on social media on what really happened… but how is it important? How could that happy, warm beautiful person – the star of so many films and the heartthrob of millions be just disconnected from life? Like a light that has been suddenly turned off. How can one write an obit about someone who lived and breathed life each moment?

I was with the morning papers yesterday when my husband walked into the living room and said, ‘Sridevi passed on, you know that – don’t you?’ And I was like, ‘What? Are you sure? You’re serious? You’re sure this is not fake news? Turn on the TV.’ And there they were: the images. Her last dance at nephew Mohit Marwah’s wedding; her last wave and flying kisses to some guests; her elegant self posing with Khushi – her younger daughter; a family picture with Mohit and his new bride Antara. Sridevi was living her life to the hilt. Or so it appeared.

Another panel on the same split screen was focusing on scenes from her films - some inane, some intense, some legendary and some close-ups. She had it all. Those eyes, that spoke so much; that inimitable smile which could launch a 1000 ships; those dance moves which every little girl during the late 70s and early 80s wanted to emulate – can anyone capture Sridevi’s joie de vivre that set screens afire?

And yes, yet another section on the screen had different anchors hurriedly and quickly calling her acquaintances, friends, colleagues, basically anyone they could find - to share anecdotes, their choice of her best films, describe her last moments… some pulled out her interviews, some her memories… as though trying to fill a void; a void that now feels like a bottomless pit. All that is left now is analysis and post-mortem of films, performances, co-actors, her style, her fashion sense, her legacy and of course (last but not the least) of her mortal remains. Of what killed her? Of how did she die? 40 hours on, and I am still struggling to come to terms.

Did I know Sridevi? As a film critic, as a cine enthusiast, sure I did. Am I huge fan? Perhaps not. Still, there can be no taking away from the fact that, she had some exemplary performances to her credit and one has always admired her ability to carry off even the most ludicrous of roles with a lot of panache and chutzpah. But then that’s the hallmark of a great artiste, isn’t it? They are as much at ease with the absurd as they are with the sensible. If one wondered what possessed her to take on a Nagina and a Tohfa, one admired her for having the gumption to portray a five-year old caught in a grown up’s body in Sadma. If Mawali and Nigahen were best avoided even on bad hair days, Chandni and Mr India could be watched again and again.

Sri Devi in Nagina and Nigahen

Nagina & Nigahen - Both these films are counted amongst Sridevi's blockbusters, even though they had little content cinematically

It is very tough to figure out which performance of Sridevi’s can be rated up there amongst the best but a few – perhaps just five make it to the top, amongst the Hindi lot. As for Southern cinemas she was way, way ahead of competition – be it in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada or Malayalam movies. Who can forget her as Sevnanti in 16 Vayathinile (1977 / Tamil) directed by P. Bharathiraja where she as a young woman is caught between two lovers, portrayed by Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth? Or the Ram Gopal Varma directed road film Kshana Kshanam a comedy which went to become a sleeper hit (1991 / Telugu) with Venkatesh and Paresh Rawal. Her portrayal as Kokila in Meendum Kokila (1981 / Tamil) directed by G. N. Rangarajan was loved by fans and critics alike and earned her a Filmfare Award for Best Actress as had Kshana Kshanam earlier.

Sri devi in Meendum Kokila