Sridevi is an Indian actress and producer who carved a space for herself in cinema with her talent and charm. Not only did she mesmerise the audience with her performances, but also displayed exemplary dancing skills. The boldness with which she acted in films having strong social messages at a time when female actors mostly occupied screen space to portray the hero’s ‘love interest‘, made her an undeniable presence in the industry.
With a persona that used to light up the screens and the versatility that made the audience feel emotionally connected to the characters she portrayed, Sridevi is cited as the first ‘Female Superstar of India‘. Fluent in six languages and with more than 200 movies credited to her filmography, she was a multi-faceted talent. Sridevi was also the recipient of multiple awards that include various State awards, Filmfare Awards, the National Award and a Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour given by the government of India.
Sridevi was the stage name of Shree Amma Yanger Ayyappan, born in 1963 at the Meenampatti village in Tamil Nadu. While her mother tongue was Telugu, she was also fluent in Tamil. Her career in films began at the young age of 4 when she starred as a child actor in the Tamil movie Kandhan Karunai, in 1967. Thereafter, there was no stopping her.
“I lost out on going to school and having a college life, but I got into the film industry and worked without a gap – from child actor, I went straight to heroine. There was no time to think and I was grateful for it“, she said.
Three years later, she made her debut in the Telugu movie, Maa Nanna Nirdoshi. In 1971, she acted in the Malyalam movie, Poompatta and won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Artist. As a child, she worked with the big stars of the time like, Jayalalitha, Roja Romani, Murugan, Veerabaghu Devan, Vijayalalitha, and Premnath, among others.
At the age of thirteen, Sridevi bagged her first lead role in the Tamil film, Moondru Mudichu. This was followed by an array of films in which she worked with the likes of Kamal Haasan, N.T. Rama Rao and Rajnikanth. Interestingly, she was paired with Kamal Haasan in 27 films across languages. Her subsequent performances in notable films included Bharathi Raja’s Sigappu Rojakkal, S. P. Muthuraman’s Priya, Karthika Deepam, Johnny, Varumayin Niram Sivappu and Aakali Rajyam.
She starred in the Tamil film Meendum Kokila (1981) and was awarded the Filmfare for Best Actress – Tamil. In Moondram Pirai (1982) she played a woman suffering from retrograde amnesia and won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actress for her performance. Her performance in the 1992 Ram Gopal Varma directed Kshana Kshanam opposite Venkatesh, won her the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Telugu and the Nandi Award for Best Actress.
With Solva Sawan, Sridevi made her debut in Bollywood in 1979 and four years later she was cast opposite Jeetendra in Himmatwala. Being one of the highest-grossing Hindi films of the year, it established the actress in the Hindi movie industry. Shortly after, she was signed with the actor again for the film Tohfa, the highest-grossing Hindi film of 1984. The pair did 16 films together, most of which were very successful at the box office. The filmfare magazine declared the actress as “Unquestionably #1” on their cover.
Sridevi received high critical acclaim for the movie Sadma (1983), as she performed the role of a child-woman suffering from amnesia. In addition, the film also got her the first Filmfare nomination for Best Actress – Hindi. According to CNN-IBN’s Bollywood Blockbusters, “Sridevi’s popularity grew so much that despite having a guest appearance in Janbaaz, she completely overshadowed the film’s lead heroine Dimple Kapadia.”
Interestingly, Sridevi has worked with fathers as well as with their sons- she has played the female lead to Akkineni Nageswara Rao as well as his son Nagarjuna and Dharmendra and his son, Sunny Deol. Sridevi worked with all the superstars of the time and made her own mark in the films she was part of. Apart from the aforementioned names, her pairing with Rajesh Khanna in films like, Naya Kadam (1984), Maqsad (1984), Masterji (1985) and Nazrana (1987), was also extremely successful.
The actress was the backbone of the snake fantasy film, Nagina (1986), in which she played a shape-shifting woman. The climax dance number ‘Main Teri Dushman’ is still one of the most iconic dance numbers in Bollywood’s history and gives fans goosebumps even today.
In the following year, she played the role of a goofy crime journalist in Mr. India with Anil Kapoor. Apart from being the highest grossing hit of the year, the movie is still considered to be just as iconic. Even though Kapoor was the main lead, Sridevi stole the show with her imitation of Charlie Chaplin and the sizzling numbers ‘Kaate Nahin Kat te’ and ‘Hawwa Hawai.’ Filmfare described Sridevi as “truly a goddess in a blue sari.”
Then came one of the most watched films of Indian cinema, Yash Chopra’s Chandni. A romantic musical saga that reaffirmed her position as the top actress, not that it was ever doubted. Her refreshing costumes in the film set trends and the song ‘Mere haathon mein Nau Nau Choodiyaan’ is still a rage.
Her double role in the film ChaalBaaz overshadowed Sunny Deol and Rajnikanth on screen, and her slapstick rain dance “Na Jaane Kahaan Se Aayi Hai” became extremely successful with The Times of India describing it as “a Sridevi classic“. Both the movies garnered her Filmfare Best Actress nominations, but she won for the former.
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Sridevi went on to play double roles in the movies Lamhe and the epic Khuda Gawah. While the former flopped, she received high critical acclaim for it. The latter, also starring Amitabh Bachchan, did good business and still remains popular. While shooting for the former, Sridevi also campaigned for her father but eventually lost the elections.
Ace Hollywood director Steven Spielberg approached Sridevi for a small role in the film Jurassic Park. From 1985 to 1993, she was the highest-paid actress in the country and refused the offer after evaluating it. In 1997, the star acted in the film Judaai with Anil Kapoor and Urmila, before going on a hiatus. Film critic Subhash K. Jha wrote that Sridevi “left us with the most stunning hurrah in Judaai. A terrible film that I’ve watched countless times to see her play the money-minded harridan who ‘sells’ her husband to Urmila Matondkar. Who but Sridevi could carry of such an outrageous role with such enthusiastic élan?!”
In contrast to the strong and vivacious characters she used to portray, Sridevi was reportedly a shy person. Film critic and journalist Rajeev Masand wrote, “I have never known anyone who was so painfully shy, so quiet off-screen, who just transformed into a force of nature when the cameras came on. She was an interviewer’s nightmare, but the movie-buff’s dream“.
Seldom do superstars stay away from their shares of controversies, and Sridevi was no different. An introverted actress who till the very end kept her private life away from the media and public eye, found herself in the midst of multiple gossips. Extremely discreet, she rarely gave any interviews or talked about her family. In the 1980s, she was speculated to have married Mithun Chakraborty but the marriage didn’t last. Soon after, she married Boney Kapoor in a simple temple wedding. The couple have two daughters, Jahnvi Kapoor and Khushi Kapoor.
Sridevi didn’t sign a film for years but was still active in the entertainment industry. She was a part pf the Sahara sitcom Malini Iyer (2004-2005), appeared on the talk show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, performed a medley of her musical hits at the Filmfare Awards 2007, appeared on the show 10 Ka Dum in 2009 and was a member of the board of directors at the Asian Academy of Film and Television.
After 15 years, the actress made her comeback to films with the blockbuster, English Vinglish, directed by the debutante Gauri Shinde. The story and Sridevi’s performance received widespread critical acclaim. Subhash K. Jha noted that Sridevi “makes the contemporary actresses, even the coolest ones, look like jokes… If you watch only 2 films every year make sure you see English Vinglish twice!”
She was next seen in the thriller Mom, in which she played the role of a stepmother who sets out to avenge the sexual assault of her daughter. For her performance, Sridevi received the National Film Award for Best Actress and earned nominations for Best Actress and Best Actress (Critics) at Filmfare and the Screen Award for Best Actress. She had also signed the 2019 film, Kalank but unfortunately passed away before the shooting began. At the time of her death, Sridevi was not shooting for any upcoming films and her last on-screen appearance was in Aanand L. Rai’s film Zero (2018) in a cameo.
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On 24 February 2018, Sridevi passed way due to accidental drowning. Her funeral took place on 28 February 2018 at the Vile Parle Seva Samaj Crematorium in Mumbai. She was cremated with state honours, receiving a gun salute at her funeral. The actress became one of the few people from the Indian entertainment industry to be accorded with full state honours.
Sridevi went too soon, but her legacy lives on. Not only does she continue to mesmerise us with her exceptional talent but also serves as an undying inspiration to actors and film buffs.