Born on 13th August 1963, the original Queen Bee, Sridevi ruled the box office throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. A bilingual actress with an impressive body of work in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada, Sridevi started her acting career at the age of four with the Tamil movie Kandhan Karunai. But it was in 1976 that she got her first female lead role in K. Balachander’s Parallel Cinema Moondru Mudichu. Interestingly, this film cast her opposite two actors who would eventually become the greatest icons of Indian films – Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan. Following her big break, Sridevi went on to star in a succession of films with both Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan, many of which were super duper hits.
After cementing her position down South, Sridevi now looked to the Hindi film industry in a bid to reach a pan Indian audience. Her first Hindi film, Solva Saawan was a remake of one of her biggest Tamil hits Pathinaru Vayathinile. The film was released in 1978, but failed to make an impression at the box office. A demoralised Sridevi lost interest in Hindi films. But success came to her when she least expected it. In 1983, Sridevi was offered the main female lead in the remake of a hit Telugu film Ooriki Monagadu to be directed by K. Raghavendra, one of Telugu film industry’s most successful film directors. The story goes that Jeetendra who was the main lead was a big fan of Sridevi and had recommended her name to the director. Himmatwala became a super-duper hit, giving the actress the first of her many Hindi film successes. The film also had outrageous dance settings of coloured clay pots, a K. Raghavenrda speciality. As Jeetendra very succinctly puts it “Tathaiya tathaiya… was shot in a riverbed and it’s tough dancing on sand. But Sridevi made it easy and fun. And the song today is representative of the ’80s. I danced on matkas (earthern pots) and santaras (oranges). And set a trend!” Following the success of Himmatwala, Sridevi made a number of films with Jeetendra like Mawaali, Justice Chowdhary, and my personal favourite Tohfa.
In the same year, Sridevi got to display her acting skills in Sadma, a Hindi remake of her Tamil film Moondram Pirai. The actress’s performance as an autistic child-woman won her many praises but critics still claimed her Tamil performance to be better, a fact which the actress agrees to. She says, “I was more comfortable speaking Tamil than Hindi. And both Kamal and I did a lot of improvisation on the sets in the Tamil version, which wasn’t possible in Hindi, because language hi samajh mein nahin aati thi.”
One of Sridevi’s greatest strength was her dance performances, although the actress did not have any formal training in classical dance. And it was with the 1986 super hit Nagina, that she cemented her position as one of India’s greatest entertainers. In the film Sridevi played an ichadhari nagin or a shape –shifter. Her dance sequence in the song Main Teri Dushman not only showcased her extraordinary dance skills but also announced the entry of one Indian cinema’s greatest choreographers – Saroj Khan.
Amazingly she perfected her dance routine even further in the 1987 cult movie Mr. India. Her sensuous rain dance in the song Katte Nahi Katte, can be seen as a precursor to Madhuri’s Dhak Dhak number. But it was when she channelled her inner Charlie Chaplin in the song Hawa Hawai that she really stole the hearts of the collective Indian audience. Reminiscing about the shot the actress says, “From childhood I have been a fan of Charlie Chaplin and, Laurel and Hardy. So when I got a chance to do comedy and that too one which included a take-off on Charlie Chaplin, I had a ball. Originally, there were just supposed to be a couple of shots in the Chaplinesque getup. But when Shekhar (director) saw me in the getup and realized I could walk like Charlie too, he got carried away. He wanted to picturize a song on me. However, Veeru masterji suggested that we could incorporate a fight sequence. A one day shooting stretched on to 10 days and the scene became a highlight of the film.”
But it was the year 1989 which can actually be termed as Sridevi’s year. Just a year before, another actress Madhuri Dixit had threatened Sridevi’s Numero Uno position. The gossip mill was rife with speculation as to whether the southern siren would be able to hold her own against the new competition. And hold her own she did, with two back to back superhits – Chaalbaaz and Chandni. Chaalbaaz is Sridevi’s own Seeta-Geeta, a typical potboiler about a pair of twins separated at birth. One is raised by the evil uncle under submission; the other is a happy-go-lucky stage dancer. The film also included an award winning dance sequence for the song Kisi Ke Haath Na Aayegi Yeh Lladki.
In Chandni, one of Yash Chopra’s biggest hits, Sridevi is portrayed as the ultimate romantic heroine. Her white costumes became popular as the ‘Chandni Look’ all over India. This film was a godsend for all the people involved in its making. It gave a new lease of life to Yash Raj production, and proved yet again that romantic musicals would always have an audience in India. It prolonged Rishi Kapoor’s fading career as a romantic hero thus ensuring that he played the romantic lead opposite a whole new generation of actresses like Juhi Chawla and Divya Bharti. And most importantly, it reaffirmed Sridevi’s position as the leading actress of her generation.
Although she acted in a number of movies in the 90s, only four of her films got any critical or popular acclaim at the time. These were Lamhe (1991), Khuda Gawah (1992), Laadla (1994) and Judaai (1997). Amongst these, Lamhe, a mature love story garnered the most acclaim for the actress. A film made ahead of its time, Lamhe delves into the story of a young girl who is in love with a much older man who was in fact in love with her dead mother. The film finds a place in the Times Movie Guide’s Top 100 Indian films and is cited as Yash Chopra’s personal favourite along with Silsila.
In 1996 the actress married film producer Boney Kapoor and left full-time acting to concentrate on her family life. She did return briefly to the small screen in the Sahara sitcom Malini Iyer (2004–2005), but till date there have been no confirmed reports of her making a big screen comeback.
IIFA wishes the lovely lady a very Happy Birthday and hopes she fulfils her fans wishes of seeing this great entertainer back on the silver screen sometime soon.