While casually scrolling through my twitter feed on Saturday morning (New York time), I came across the news of Sridevi’s death. Initial disbelief was replaced by sadness. But there was something different about this gloom, almost heart-breaking and poignant at the same time. I couldn’t put a finger on it. Through the course of the day, my childhood began to flash in front of my eyes — my cousins and I watching Mr India and dancing to Hawa Hawaii, me pestering my mother for nine bangles each to groove to Nau Nau Chudeeyan.
When you live some 1000 miles away from home, you hold on to every single shred of nostalgia that makes you feel connected. And it’s then that I realized what an integral part of my childhood Sridevi, the actress, was. I grew up at a time when Sridevi was Queen of the box office. My parents were very selective about the kind of movies we watched. There was a ‘no violence, no adult content’ rule when it came to choosing our weekend VHS tapes. But if it was a Sridevi movie, we would almost certainly get to watch it. We’ve seen Mr India so many times, I’ve lost count. We grooved along with her in Chaalbaaz, and my cousin would insist that his moves on the snake dance from Nagina, was closest to Sri’s. These memories made me smile.
It also broke my heart.
Much later in life, I began to appreciate her nuanced performances in Sadma, Chandni and Lamhe. There are other aspects to her career that we as women need to appreciate. Long before conversations on female empowerment and equal pay became mainstream, Sridevi built a career that saw her get paid more than her leading men. Many times over. This was quite a feat in Indian cinema. Her name alone could draw in the crowds. There wasn’t a leading man during her time who could withstand the star power and talent of Sridevi. There is so much to unpack in discussions about Sridevi the actress. With time, I like many others, had moved on; my attention/obsession shifting to Madhuri, Rani and Kareena. But she drew me back, in 2012, with a fabulous turn in English Vinglish. So vulnerable, yet strong. A few years ago, when I was working in Hyderabad, I met Sridevi during a CCL match at the LB Nagar Stadium. In a crowd of actors, she was luminous. It was surreal to see her in flesh and blood, and all I could manage was, “Hello Ma’am”. She refused to pose for pictures without Boney Kapoor by her side. They clung on to each other like teens in love. Losing Sridevi is hard. What’s more painful is the speculation and salacious rumours surrounding her death. A questionable Whatsapp message, guised as a cautionary tale, blamed cosmetic surgeries for Sridevi’s demise. It called her a clothes horse, cast aspersions on her marriage and accused her of leaving behind a terrible legacy for her children.
All this without knowing the real cause of death. Meanwhile, the Indian Media was left scraping the bottom of the barrel, without an ounce of dignity.
That they could lose all sense of decorum is shocking. Reporting took a complete backseat, giving way to conspiracy theories and speculation. It was painful to watch senior editors debating her death on prime time, while a morphed picture of Sridevi was shown floating in a bathtub. There is more where this comes from. But the less we speak about it, the better.
Sridevi’s death is an eye-opener – it’s shown us that we love a little gossip, even in death. At a time when information is available at our fingertips, we’ve seemed to have lost the ability to sympathize and allow people to grieve in dignity. I’ve been having conversations with friends from the media, and they blame TRP, because “that’s what people like to watch.” I for one, refuse to buy into that explanation. If the media puts up a half- decent show, without violating the Kapoor family’s privacy, a sizable viewership is guaranteed. I say this confidently because we are talking about Sridevi here – the woman who had the power to draw in the masses without being crude or disrespectful.
For someone who brought so much happiness to our lives, she deserves much better in death.
Formerly a senior journalist with The Times Of India Group, freelance Data Journalist Sarah Salvadore is based in New York, sometimes reports for the New Yorker