File photo of Sridevi during a press conference of Karanataka Gold Festval in Bangalore, April 6, 2006. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)
Those expressive eyes and the mischievous smile sent hearts aquiver and lit up the cinema screens, making Sridevi, Bollywood’s first female superstar.
Sridevi’s sudden death at the age of 54 in Dubai, Feb. 24, has left family and fans in shock and grief. This ‘Chandni’ left the world too soon.
The actor, wife of producer Boney Kapoor, had gone to Dubai along with her family to attend her nephew Mohit Marwah’s wedding.
In an impressive career, spanning five-decades, the actor ruled the commercial cinema space in the ’80s and ’90s like no heroine had done before.
In an industry dominated by male superstars, Sridevi reversed the trend by her sheer acting prowess. Her name, most of the times, was a guarantee enough for a film’s success.
An extremely shy person in real life, Sridevi came alive in front of the cameras, playing a variety of roles. Such was her popularity that her style and dance moves would be copied by her fans country over. She was ‘Miss Hawa Hawaaii’ and ‘Chandni’ for them.
Sridevi started acting at the age of four and made her debut with M.A. Thirumugham’s “Thunaivan.” She continued acting in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films but it was her career in Bollywood that made her a household name in the country.
She made her Bollywood debut as a child artiste in 1975 hit “Julie” but continued ruling the South Indian film industry where she established herself as a leading heroine with films such as “16 Vayathinile,” “Sigappu Rojakkal,” “Meendum Kokila,” and “Moondram Pirai.”
In Bollywood, she made her debut in 1978 as a lead actor in “Solva Sawan.”
She gained commercial success with the 1983 film “Himmatwala” opposite Jeetendra, which also established her as one of the best dancers in cinema. She was grace-personified dressed as an apsara (a celestial beauty in Hindu mythology) performing on the hit track ‘Nainon mein sapna.’
The year 1983 also saw Sridevi give stellar performances in both critically acclaimed and box-office hits such as “Sadma,” where she played the role of a woman who loses her memory.
Both she and actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan played the roles in the Hindi remake of their 1982 Tamil movie, “Moondram Pirai.” The climax of the heart-wrenching movie was deemed as poetic as the entire plot, with the song ‘Ae zindagi gale laga le’ as an ode to the philosophy of uncertainty in life.
Sridevi followed it up with a number of commercial hits such as “Mawaali,” “Tohfa,” “Masterji” and “Nazrana.”
In 1987 came Shekhar Kapur’s “Mr. India,” a film which was produced by her future husband Boney Kapoor.
Sridevi gave a memorable performance as crime reporter Seema Sohni. She was one of the few female actors who left the audience spellbound with both her comic timing and sensuality.
How her undercover scribe transformed into ‘Ms. Hawa Hawaaii,’ thanks to her dancing skills in one of the popular songs, is one of the most memorable scenes of the film.
Owing to the cult status the song went on to achieve, the Kavita Krishnamurthy number has been recreated a number of times in films such as “Shaitan” and most recently in Vidya Balan’s “Tumhari Sulu.”
And so will ‘Kaate nahi kat-te,’ an iconic sultry number which saw the actor romance an invisible man in a song reveling in a never-before-seen boldness and fantasy.
Filmmaker Yash Chopra cast her in the title role of “Chandni” in the 1989 film, another iconic film of her career. Such was her performance in the film that fans came to recognize her with the name of ‘Chandni.’
Impressed with her performance in the film, Chopra cast her again in “Lamhe” in a dual role, where she played the mother and the daughter.
It did not do well at the box office at that time but has come to be known one the best films of Sridevi, Chopra and Anil Kapoor’s careers. The film was said to be ahead of its times as it dealt with a woman falling for an older man who is in love with her dead mother.
Her other major box office hits of the era were “Chaalbaaz,” where she played the role of twins, “Nagina,” and “Khuda Gawah” opposite Amitabh Bachchan.
Her pairing with Anil Kapoor, her “Mr. India” co-star and brother-in-law, was particularly successful and she would work with him again in “Laadla” and “Judaai.”
After “Judaai,” Sridevi took a break from acting to focus on her marriage with Boney Kapoor. She had two daughters—Janhvi and Khushi—with Kapoor.
The actor made a successful comeback to cinema 15 years later with Gauri Shinde’s “English Vinglish,” playing a housewife who learns English after feeling left out in her family.
She also had a starring role in Tamil film “Puli” and followed “English Vinglish” with another successful outing in “Mom,” which also featured Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshaye Khanna.
The actor’s elder daughter Janhvi is on the cusp of her own cinematic journey with “Dhadak,” a remake of the Marathi blockbuster “Sairat.” Unfortunately, Sridevi will not be there to witness it.