Sridevi: a South Indian actress married to producer Boney Kapoor, and the mother of two girls. That is as much of her I cared to know. She featured prominently on Pinterest, and I did give her photographs a second look, but only for the clothes and jewellery, not for her.
I was never a fan of hers. I have seen Chandni
, but cannot recall the story or her acting; I have seen English Vinglish
and thoroughly enjoyed it, for the story and not for the actors.
Therefore, when my friend rang me on the night of 24th February from the US, and stated that Sridevi had passed away, I received the news with disinterest. But I soon realized that I belonged to a tiny minority. Within a few hours of the announcement of her passing, social media was flooded with her pictures, and posts about her life and death.
Most of my close friends were shocked and grief stricken upon hearing the news and I was rather astonished by the sheer scale and depth of the admiration for Sridevi. I also noted that her fans were sensitive and reactive to the reports about her (alleged) medication, procedures, and surgeries, an indication that she was more than just an actress; I felt she had established a personal and emotional connection with her audiences.
What was it about her that I had missed out on? Curious to explore the Devi-philia, and its noticeable absence in my life, I set about watching her interviews on Youtube to see if I could comprehend her appeal. (I have listed the links to the videos I watched at the end)
I learned that Sridevi began acting at the age of 4, appeared in 300 films over a span of 5 decades, and that she worked continuously from 1967-1997. She came across as thoughtful and confident, despite the quivering voice. She spoke with deliberation and with caution, and though the interviewers mentioned that she was not known for her loquaciousness, I felt she chose her words carefully, in order not to give out too little or too much information.
She was unafraid to admit to having agency. When the interviewer asked her whether she felt the camera loved her, she responded that she loved the camera. She also stated that she loved dancing and acting. She admitted that she did not have a “normal” childhood, hat she missed out on school and college and university, but had she taken the “normal” route she would not have become the Sridevi she was. She stated she loved comedy, and was deeply religious.
When discussing her career, she did not hesitate to acknowledge the contributions of her fellow actors, and the directors and producers she worked with. When questioned whether she would consider becoming a director, she responded that it was a big responsibility and that film direction was a difficult task.
When asked about her daughters entering the film industry, she stated that no mother would want to have her daughters so exposed, but that she would stand by and support her daughters nonetheless. She also stated that times had changed, and that unlike her own mother, she would not be closely watching over her daughter’s filming.
As I watched the interviews, I tried to imagine what Sridevi’s life had been like, but I could not. Neither did she want me to. She did not look into the camera and utter emotional appeals to invite the audience to see the world from her perspective. Her life had taken a different trajectory than that of other 4 year olds around her, but she accepted that with grace and made the most of the opportunities that subsequently came her way.
She was very matter-of-fact. She did not seek approval or act defensive. She did not play victim. She did not ask for sympathy. She did not use the social space of the interviews or the camera to project or promote herself. She did not glamorize the film industry, neither did she reprehend it; she did not exalt its trappings or castigate its tribulations. She did not embellish any aspect of her life or career.
As I began writing this article, I realized that five interviews later, I had become a fan. Since I have not seen her films, I am not sure what it is about her that appealed to her fans, but as a professional woman, she inspired me. In search of what she meant to others, I found her life had meaning to me.
She was honest about the opportunity costs of undertaking a task, her no pain no gain philosophy, unlike other smug so-called successful having it all types. She was truthful about working hard. She was clear that it was not only a lead actor/actress that makes a film successful, rather that was the result of successful team work. She was unsentimental about her transition from megastar to mother. She was loyal to her profession and to the industry she belonged to.
Her admirable qualities were her realistic outlook, determination, perseverance, self-reflection, adaptability, restraint, composure, dignity, and her implicit faith. As women, it is these characteristics we ought to take away with us as lessons from her life; how she danced, what she looked like, and what she wore is secondary. It is the woman she was, that made her the superstar she became.
If there is any woman who deserves a special tribute on Women’s Day, it is Sridevi. And now I am going to give her the respect I did not give her in her lifetime. I am going to watch her movies, starting with Mom
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.