My admiration for Sridevi was never hidden. I have always been one of the avid participants and a frontline warrior whenever fans broke out in a Twitter war that involved her and her arch-rival, Madhuri Dixit. Even today, not a day goes by without watching her song or a scene or an interview. I will also honestly admit that I was the happiest when I read reviews of Madhuri’s Total Dhamaal and learnt how bad a film it is! Few days before Sri’s passing away, I had interviewed Pakistani beauty Mahira Khan and one of the questions I posed to her as if she was a Madhuri or a Sridevi fan. Her response was, ‘I walk the tight rope as the world is torn between the two’
It was, in fact, Mahira Khan who sent me a text out of nowhere at 1.45am that read ‘ So sorry for your loss, I know what she meant for you – Long Live the Queen’. It took me a while to register what she meant and then the series of phone calls started to check up on how I was doing and coping with my favourite star’s death. I was in disbelief until I verified this with designer Faraz Manan who had received a confirmation from Kareena Kapoor Khan about Sridevi’s sudden and untimely demise. I was shattered to learn that she had died just within the radius of 3 kilometres from where I live in Dubai. I wanted to go to her but I had no clue on her whereabouts. I collected myself and dashed into the nearby American Hospital. I had a feeling that she would be brought here for treatment. But my calculation was wrong. She had been taken to Rashid Hospital that has the exclusive license to accept cases under emergency but unfortunately, she was declared dead on arrival.
I was on the roads until 4 am in the biting cold and then returned home. The rest of the night was spent watching her videos and different media reports. I was also following the live twitter update from a local newspaper to know where the body was. The next morning I went to the Forensic Science department of the Police Station near Qusais where the post mortem was going on. Ironically, the TV units installed in the waiting areas were also showing her films. I clearly remember it was Lamhe and there was this hospital scene in the film where Anil Kapoor requests her to hang in there ‘Aap ko kuch nahi hoga’. To say the least, I was hoping for the same in real life.
After two days at the forensic department, the body was finally released. The ambulance took the body to Sonapur Embalming Centre Dubai. And obviously, I was following the ambulance. I suffer from Necrophobia and in my whole life, I have visited the graveyard only once. But that day, at the embalming centre, there were bodies being brought every other minute and one of them was hers. I never wanted anything as bad in life as much as I wanted to see her face for the final farewell. She was brought out of the ambulance, all covered and left the same way. Unattainable and private till her last breath.
Her coffin was next to a Pakistani taxi driver’s coffin with her autopsy report stuck on top. It was not only a dreadful sight to recall but also a reminder for everyone that ‘Once it’s over, all the king and the pawn go in the same box’.
A few days later, I connected with Faraz Manan who had been in touch with Sridevi directly for the last few months and even a short while before her death. He was in the process of making a ball gown for her. “When I heard the news of her death, I sent her a message, ‘Please say this is not true - sadly those messages are still unread on my phone. I hope this all was a bad dream,” he said.
For me, this bad dream hasn’t ended as yet. Often, I drive by that hotel where she breathed her last as it’s close to my workplace and it reminds me of that ill-fated night. Death of an idol or a closed one tears you apart and leaves you with pain and a faint question of ‘what could have been?’. Now that the Indian film industry is finally paying attention to content over crores, I wonder what more could she have accomplished if her life wasn’t cut short like that. For me, there is not much to look forward to in movies as the curtains have fallen over the biggest entertainer already. For once, I know there is no ‘comeback’ on the cards.
For many like me, she took away with her, the right to find joy in films.
Sadiq Saleem with Sridevi