Sridevi is the best actor in the world,” declared Nawazuddin Siddiqui in full fanboy spirit, ahead of MOM’s release – a 2017 hit in which both shared screen for the first time. What is it about Sridevi that indisputably makes her an evergreen beauty and a legit Bollywood star even at 54? Why is she enjoying an exciting resurgence at a time when most of her peers have washed away into oblivion? A stylish thriller bolstered further by Sridevi’s quietly rousing performance, MOM was her 300th film but the excitement she exuded on the sets, we are informed, was very child-like. She was acting as if she were facing the camera for the first time.
Remarkable as it may sound, Sridevi did actually face the camera for the first time as a child! Starting out at the tender age of four in 1969 in the arc-lights of Tamil cinema, Sridevi, more than decades later, continues to keep that child in her alive. As adult, she paired up with the likes of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth but it was Bollywood that would propel her into a best-seller. Although she made her Bollywood debut as a zesty teenager in 1978 she had to wait it out a few years before shaking the stakes. Come Himmatwala with Jeetendra (some of you may recall her prancing about on a faux-set made up of colourful clay pots) and Sridevi would waltz her way into the audience’s heart. A trained dancer, she had few rivals in the stakes of Bollywood song and dance. Except, maybe Madhuri Dixit – but that’s a frenzied debate that will send fans of both stars tumbling away into a zone of conflict. We don’t want that conflict, do we? Through the 1980s and 90s, Sridevi proved herself to be a box-office catnip. A versatile performer, she could make you cry just as she could make you laugh. She knew how to soften the blow of a Sadma and a Lamhe with goofy turns in a Chaalbaaz or a Mr India. It was one thrill after another.
When she turned on the charm she could get away with murder. At her peak, she was bigger than the men, overshadowing the male storm. Yes, men who tout their supremacy and claim to lord over Bollywood. They couldn’t threaten Sridevi. With her top notes of luscious looks, graceful dancing skills, versatility and magnetic charm, it was easy to say that Sridevi was a force – and source – of nature. By the late ‘90s, unfortunately, we lost Ms Hawa Hawai to homemaking. Married to producer Boney Kapoor with two young daughters – one of whom, Jhanvi, is at the cusp of her debut today – Sridevi let herself take a well-deserved backseat. This is a woman who’s been toiling away under the arc-lights since childhood.
Did she, like Michael Jackson, even have a childhood? All the while that Sridevi was in self-imposed hiding, enjoying domestic bliss, Bollywood never shut its door on its most resplendent star. Finally, after years of frenetic pursuit, Sridevi was persuaded to make a comeback. In Bollywood, comebacks are never as splendid as the first innings. But Sridevi is all about upturn. English Vinglish, in 2012, turned out to be just the breath of fresh air that Hindi cinema was so desperately looking for. The fact that Sridevi could stage a comeback and be accepted and welcomed back with such warmth is a sign of her enduring popularity. Some stars don’t age or date. Sridevi is that ageless wonder. At 54, she is at that beautiful cliff of her career where she can enjoy the experience of being a mom and the curious child within her to unfurl a side that Bollywood is only beginning to fully grasp.
As Akshaye Khanna, her co-star in MOM put it, “Sridevi’s been working for five decades but her acting always looks ‘today.’"That’s called ‘never going out of fashion.’