My relationship with Sridevi is earthen and organic. I was a little girl in the early 1990s in a very dreary household – my parents were posted in Balochistan and visited infrequently while my twin sister was struggling with cancer.
On top of that, our staple diet of Pakistan’s state television which presented nuanced, deep, well-written-to-the-extent-of-being-poetic plays with television stars like Marina Khan and Atiqa Odho.But if Allah is the witness, I never understood a single word of those plays, and they were so slow that I even dozed off during most of them.
Now compare them with a film starring Sridevi – it will have action, drama, raw sexuality, gundas that get brutally beaten up by the hero, and above all, songs. Our little minds could relate to that immediately and the storyline was always on the back-seat. We immediately related to the hullabaloo and the frenzy.
Sridevi in a still from Puli. (Photo Courtesy: Puli screengrab)
Personally, I was and still am, fond of spunky women. I like loud humour, loud dressing, bright colours, and I embrace aesthetic disasters because PTV is full of classy, sophisticated and “shaista” (polite) women who cover every part of their body with absolute grace. But they bore the shit out of me and hopefully others like me.
As a child, I wanted to see hot flashes of belly fat and cleavage. I found them exciting and both my sister and I danced with her. However, very soon our Quranic education started and this became a guilty pleasure for a very long time.
Anil Kapoor and Sridevi in a still from Mr India.(Photo Courtesy: Mr India screengrab)
Although most of us remember that incredibly steamy number “Kate Nahi Kat te yeh din yeh raat” in that iconic blue saree from Mr India – my sister and I were amused to have all those children in the film. Initially, Sridevi is at odds with the children in the house where she has rented a room. But one day, when they don’t make any noise, Sridevi asks the houseboy what the problem is and he tells her that the children haven't eaten for two days. Sridevi’s large black eyes filled with tears and she brought them food. She attempts to turn her bitter bond with those unruly children into a bond of affection and kindness.
We were touched by this scene and watched it again and again. I have never forgotten this scene and I think this is the entire purpose of cinema – to tell an ordinary tale so powerfully that it remains unforgotten.
But then, there is one film which both of us embraced without any speck of guilt. Khuda Gawah.
|Sridevi in Khuda Gawah with Amitabh Bacchan|
In Khuda Gawah (1992) Sridevi played the character of Benazir and weaved magic as she romanced Amitabh Bachchan.
Sridevi was Benazir in Afghanistan. That film was a runaway success in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with India of course. By this time, we had seen enough Indian films to tell the difference between a Pakistani TV heroine and an Indian film one.
We knew immediately that Sridevi is in our domain – she is representing our culture.
Benazir and her look-alike daughter Mehndi is beautiful, brave, warrior-like and absolutely romantic. Benazir first meets Badshah Khan (Amitabh Bachchan) in a Buzkashi context. Ultimately, he married her and leave. She spends her life waiting for him while their daughter, Mehdi, goes to India in search of her father.
Sridevi performed both these roles with equal panache – with shades of blue, green and white in her clothes, her large eyes sparkling with courage and pride and she even rocked a Pushto accent. She endearingly said “lalle di Jaan” and “Khabees ki bachi”.
In one scene, Sridevi enters India, and goons try to abduct her. She drives so recklessly that they simply spill out of the car. In an industry that wasn’t yet ready for women-centric roles, she created a niche for herself as the quintessential commercial heroine who could pull off stunts, spunk, and punches at the same time.
Many actresses have tried the naagin script in India as well as Pakistan. But to me, just like Rekha perfected the Umrao Jan Ada role and there is no room for anyone else now, Sridevi did that with the naagin. Somehow, Sridevi’s angry naagin dance while Amrish Puri plays the been in the song ‘Mein Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera’ is that ultimate moment that no one can overcome. It redefines the antagonistic yet existential reliance the two – naagin and sapaira – have on each other.
|Sridevi as a Naagin|
Sridevi also had a personal life that was the life of magazines like Stardust in the 1980s and 1990s. My mother and aunt were both Stardust buffs and were full of stories about Sridevi – her attempts to over-charge, tantrums on the set and of course, breaking homes.
I was, and still am, amused at this expectation people have from their heroines. They want their personal lives to be as flawless as their skins. This is, of course, impossible, given the stress, secrecy and sheer stardom these women attain.
I don’t want a star who is a saint, because that stinks of hypocrisy. I always have and will embrace Sridevi with all the shortcomings of a female superstar in Bollywood. At the end of the day, like every woman in this subcontinent, Sridevi started running a home and raising children. But to me, she remained the heroine from the other side of the divide – who gave my childish mind the brightly coloured entertainment it desired the most.
|Sridevi in her later years|