Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sridevi Death Anniversary: Why is Sridevi India’s first female megastar?

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By Dhiraj Kumar

24th February 2018 marks one of the darkest chapters in the annals of the country when India lost its greatest actress and first female megastar of Indian cinema- Sridevi Kapoor. It is already three years to the day that shattered India and Sridevi followers across the world. Sridevi who has been a part of the life of every Indian over the past five generations was no more.

Born on 13th August 1963, Sridevi has acted in more than 300 films of Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada languages. In her stupendous career of 50 years, Sridevi has delivered blockbuster films in 5 languages and broke every glass ceiling for female actresses after her.

Born in Chennai, Sridevi started her career as a child artiste in devotional Tamil film Thunaivan in 1969 as the child incarnation of God Murugan. She featured in a short role but went on to establish herself in the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, and Kannada film industries with over 65 films as an extremely successful child artist. Some of the notable films of Sridevi from the era are Nam Naadu (1969) in Tamil, Maa Nana Nirdoshi (1970) in Telugu, Na Thammudu (1971) in Telugu, Poompata (1971) in Malayalam, Rani Mera Naam (1971) in Hindi, Bhakta Kumbara (1974) in Kannada,  which are still etched in the hearts of the south Indian audience.

Sridevi’s career as a child actor is also still incomparable to any child artist in Hollywood or world cinema. She is only one who can boast of the rare feat of having dominated five film industries as the topmost actress after an equally remarkable career as a child actress.

Foraying into Telugu cinema as a leading lady for the first time, at the age of just 13, Sridevi broke into the dream world of fabled Hindi film heroines, when she acted as a blind girl in Anuragalu (1975). The movie did not do well at the box office, but the next year, she vowed the Tamil audiences with Moondru Mudichu (1976) where she plays Rajinikant’s stepmother! In a career of stupendous performances, the Sridevi juggernaut has just begun.

Sridevi dished out blockbuster upon blockbuster films in Tamil and Telugu with terrific performances in 16 Vayathinile (1977), Vetagadu (1979), Karthika Deepam (1980), Prema Kanuka (1981), Akali Rajyam (1981), Premaabhishekam (1981) and Devatha (1982) amongst many other countless histrionics. Her act in Moondaram Pirai as a demented girl had stood the test of time even after decades.

Though her first Hindi film Solavan Sawan (1979) did not do well at the box office, Sridevi charmed the masses with Himmatwala (1983) becoming an instant rage and was declared the No 1 actress in Hindi cinema with just one film. Such was the impact of the Sridevi phenomenon, that producers lined up this latest Southern export with commercial pot boilers with churned super hits for the next few years.

Sridevi became the only pan Indian actor in Indian cinema who transcended the traditional north-south Indian divide when she became a trail blazer in Hindi cinema with jaw dropping performances in Sadma (1983), Nagina (1986), Mr India (1987), Nazrana (1987), Chandni (1989), Chaalbaaz (1989) Lamhe (1991), Khuda Gawah (1992), Gumrah (1993), Laadla (1994) & Judaai (1997), English Vinglish (2012) & Mom (2017). Not only was Sridevi the highest paid actress of her time in Hindi, she was also the recipient of several national & international awards who dominated Indian cinema as a colossal.

A rude shock early Sunday morning, 25th Feb 2018, the world woke up to the most terrifying news of the biggest icon of Indian cinema Sridevi dying in a hotel in faraway Dubai. It was an emotion of denial, shock, vulnerability, protectiveness, fear, anger, and a huge sense of loss across for Indians across the globe. Millions of her fans are yet to recover from her passing on. People across different age groups cried watching television, tears flowing down silently as they flipped, news channel upon news channel to check if the news were true. Each one had a quiet prayer in mind that hope the news was fake.

Sridevi is the first actress to be named a female megastar of Indian cinema. She had united the nation in her demise, where the entire country was going through the same sense of loss and vacuum. This was unprecedented for an actor, where the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu would connect with the same broken heart as much as someone in North Indian state of Punjab would do. Sridevi was and always be a unifier of force for India. Some crazy Sridevi fans who bonded with her emotionally, stopped watching her movies ever since her demise as they did want to cry! Her death drew people from across the country, lining up to see her global superstar for one last time. A superstar who was as popular in India as in the USA or UK. Her movie would appear in top of the charts and draw audiences across USA, UK, South East Asia, Europe, and Japan.

When Sridevi morphed into a snake In Nagina (1986) people believed that she really had turned into a snake, when she played a celestial being in the Telugu film Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari (1990), audience believed that she had just descended on to earth, she played her characters as if it were her real self. Such was her power as an actor.

The influence that Sridevi had on India is huge and unmatchable. She managed to stay relevant to India across a span of 50 years with performances as a child, adolescent, teenager, young woman, married woman, and a mother. Over the years, since the 1970’s Sridevi has been competing against every actress of that contemporary era, right from Jayaprada, Jayasudha, to Revathi, Vijayshanti in Telugu to Lakshmi and Radhika in Tamil, to Shabana Azmi, Rekha, Hema Malini to Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla to Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Priyanka Chopra in Hindi upto 2018.

In her life as in her death Sridevi unified India with her performances, much like Sachin Tendulkar would wield the whole country to his side with a stroke of his bat. If there was one actor who India could celebrate as a pan India appeal and power that had to be only Sridevi and no one else.

Well, it may take centuries for someone to fill up those gigantic shoes that Sridevi left behind so suddenly.

(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and writer. He had been associated with Sridevi for over a decade. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at dhiraj.rao@gmail.com)

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