Dinesh Raheja (editor of MOVIE magazine) chats with Sridevi. It is an interesting feature as he's got a delicate balance of an interview here with a slightly defensive Sridevi... At a time when the critics and box-office were being unkind to her. Yet, she's self-assured, confident. As the title says, Giving the Devi(L) her Due.
As this interview shows, Sridevi remains an enigmatic figure, one who lets her work speak more than herself. "I never plan anything" is a phrase she's mentioned often just before the release of English Vinglish and, even back in 1994, the words resonate. The concluding quotes are particularly interesting and, indubitably, prescient.
GIVING THE DEVI(L) HER DUE
She has made the main-stream a fun place to be in. She is the best we have had in many years. In fact, if an all-time best heroines in the country were honoured, her name would definitely make it to the top ten spots. However, recently, she has been tested.
Khuda Gawah wasn't as big as its expectations, Lamhe was ahead of its times, Gumraah got waylaid, and Laadla, though better received than these other films, wasn't a darling of the masses. An avalanche of young girls, a famine of heroine-oriented roles, has shaken the very ground Sri once ruled over. She's not being given the chance to grow. And she can't do the dance and song routine - it's like asking a Picasso to paint your wall.
And sadly this has come at a time when she has polished her performance till they have gleam and her acquired-over-the-years sophistication (it's not restricted to those who speak fluent English, you now) has brought sheen to her glamour. the sniggers of 'Devi gayee' are too loud to be dismissed.
Instead of brushing her off like dandruff, (that's being rough on her), let's give the Devi(l) her due. She has give a lot to films... without films, she is like a fish without water. And the aquarium of entertainment would be colourless without her.
Dinesh Raheja: You have already achieved today, what most people aspire to in a lifetime. Now what? Are you complacent and coasting or still in the midst of the battlefield, fighting against the odds and seeking creative fulfillment?
Sridevi: Look, I'm doing films with a lot of interest. My attitude is not that I have to be here, so let me do films. Today, if I wanted to do films just to keep myself busy, I could have signed 15-20 films. But I don't want to do that. I want to do very good films, not lots of films.
Yes, but don't you think having just a couple of films on the floor, Meri Biwi Ka Jawaab Nahin, and Mr Bechara (Chand Ka Tukda and Garajna are complete) is a little too risky?
See, I never had more than five films on the floor simultaneously. Today, yes, I am doing very few films. The main problem is 'subjects'. Whether it's Sudhakar Bokade, Sawanji, or Venus films, they have all signed me but can't settle on a subject. Even Yashji and I talk everyday but can't settle for a story. The directors want to conceive something very different, something unusual for me. Even I feel it's high time I stopped running around trees and just singing songs. My fans will be disappointed. So the makers are there, but it's not very easy, you now, ke chalo picture start karte hain [let's start a movie].
Rekha was No:1 only for a short while, '80-'81. Hema Malini reigned from '73-'79, while you had longest spell, '83-'91. How did it feel to be on top for so many years?
To be very honest, i never thought about it, at all. Maybe you don't believe it. Because I was busy with my films. I never relaxed. I never thought 'Aah I'm at the top and nobody is there behind me. All the time I used to be on my toes.
Are you still on your toes?
Yes, of course, Till I am in this industry, I have to be on my toes.
How would you react if they were to say that Madhuri and Juhi are racing ahead? Would it spur you to prove a point?
No, I've no points to prove. Right now, all I am interested in is signing a good film.
If I ask you what's your number today, what would your answer be?
Why should I say? Everybody knows where I stand now (laughs). I do not bother about these things.
In a recent interview, Anil Kapoor has gone on quote to say Juhi is Number 1 now.
He is entitled to his opinion.
At one time Boney [Kapoor] said he would never plan a film with anybody but you.
I am flattered.
But now, he has signed Juhi for his latest home-production [the film Loafer].
That's fine. See we made Mr India, it took three years. Then we made Roop Ki Rani... it look five years. So now let us give each other a break, so he can make a quick film and I can make a quick film too.
Do you lament the fact that when an actress has matured, and is in peak form, like you are now, she doesn't get the kind of roles she deserves? There is a lot of emphasis on youth and new heroines in this industry.
Look there is a phase in one's career, the song and dance phase. It's over. It is followed by the phase performances ke liye. When they write the characters only for you. I don't think that's wrong. Because if in the beginning itself you start crying and doing roles that call for histrionics, then later there's nothing challenging left to do.
You've done a lot of challenging work with Yash Chopra in Chandni and Lamhe, tell me, why didn't you do his Darr?
Look, after Chandni and Lamhe, I feel Darr would have been an ordinary character for me. If I'm playing Shah Rukh Khan's role, then of course, I would have loved to do it. The character Juhi played was new for her and so it was good for her. But for me, it was something I had done many times before.
Talking about challenging roles, you know I feel you've never really played a strong woman like Mother India, Bandini or Damini.
I too wish I could. I haven't.
I feel a little bit of Sadma continues to linger in all our other characters...
Oh no, don't tell me (laughs).
A little, bit, just a shade. Like when you roll your eyes. Do you think it peeks through in other films too, especially while attempting comedy?
Well.. no. I could do Sadma so well because I was immature at that time. Even after I grew up, I was more or less treated like a kid. At home, everybody made fun of me, 'You are a mature girl, behave like one.' Still I kept holding onto my mum's pallu and was very dependent on her.
Now are you dependent on your mother?
Yeah, definitely. Even now.
On and off screen, your whole persona is that of a child woman.
Child woman, that's true. I also think its high time I dropped the child in me.
Childlike you may be, but I think you have the killer instinct. You don't know what killer instinct is? Killer instinct is the ability to cash in on an opponent's weakness and move in for the kill.
I don't know if I have a killer instinct (laughs). I don't know at all. If I put all that in the role, it's because that's the only thing I know (laughs). There is nothing else I know how to do. So, all the time, when I sit, I'm thinking about my character, or dresses. It's the only thing I know from the beginning, since childhood.
Don't even personal incidents distract you?
When my father died I thought everything came to an end for me. I had thought I will not shoot anymore. I will not work. And it was a shock whereby I was really shaken. I didn't know what to do. So slowly, I came out of it. Life has to keep going.
And your sister's marriage? Did you feel sad after that?
No. Because I was happy for her, My father was not very well then. He wanted to see my sister's marriage at least. She stays in Madras, my brother-in-law is also very friendly with the family, so it's like the two of us are still together.
Is your brother-in-law searching for a husband for you?
Of course, he's trying (laughs).
It may be difficult for you to reconcile to an idea of an arranged marriage, you are passed that age.
I don't think so. My parents are not the typical type who'll insist upon me that I must marry so and so. My mom is very worldly and she's very understanding. And she knows my taste and she knows the kind of a person who will be right for me. And now, she says it's high time I found a man. It's so difficult to find a boy for you so find one yourself. She tells me, if I find anybody, let me know.
Are you searching?
Um, no (laughs).
My life revolves around my make-up man, my hairdresser, my assistant, my brother and my family. So that's a head-ache I'll leave to my mummy.
But you just told me your mummy's saying you have to search a boy for yourself. So how do you solve the problem?
(Laughs) You've given me something to think about.
In Laadla your husband, Anil Kapoor, goes to work and you sit at home with the tiffin. Your character was that of a successful business tycoon, he was, after all... what was he, a clerk? Why should you propagate the idea that a wife should play second fiddle to men?
Look, the character I portrayed in Laadla was of a woman who was in the wrong. First of all, it was she who wanted to get married to him. He didn't force her to. Once, he's her husband she has to be like a wife.
Tomorrow, if your husband tells you, you are not going to work, I am, will you sit at home?
Definitely, I will give up work. Otherwise, I will try to explain to him, nicely.
But what if he isn't convinced, by your explaining 'nicely'?
Definitely, I'll stop working. Yeah, sure. Look, I always feel throughout my life (not only me, all artistes) I've listened to the director, the producer, even the still photographer. Yeh karna hai, aise rona hai, aise pose karna hai [Do this, cry like this, pose like this]. We follow their instructions, unquestioningly. Why can't I listen to my husband? Bechara ek cheez bola hai toh [Poor man's asking me for one thing], why can't I listen?
Because with you, it's your work that defines you. Himmatwala, Sadma; Nagina, Mr India, Chandni and Chaalbaaz, Lamhe, Khuda Gawah, Gumraah. Tohfa's inclusion is debatable (I didn't like the idea of two sisters throwing a man like a pilow in the film!). You are not just another actress. Tell me, do you find doing nine performance-oriented film in 10 years, satisfying?
I feel, compared to all those films I've done in the south, these are very few and far between.
Why is that so?
Its got a lot to do with the kind of films we are making here. Yet, I'm so lucky to have films like Khuda Gawah and Gumraah. Because usually heroines ka bahut kam role hota hai [actresses have small roles in film]. But in the films I have done, my roles have been as good as the hero's. So, in that way, I'm lucky.
Not surprisingly then, if you talk to today's actresses, they say that their ideal is Sridevi. Like Babita [mother of Karisma and Kareena Kapoor] was telling me, the day Karisma dances like Sridevi, she'll think her daughter has done herself proud.
Hey God, I'm really walking on air with this compliment. It's a great thing to happen to me.
Even Juhi says she finds you amazing. Everybody wants to be like you. It would be very interesting to know what you thought of them for a change. How would you assess the heroines in the industry? For instance, Madhuri Dixit.
She's very good. A very good dancer. When you see her films, it's like watching an experienced woman. It's really great to see her.
I'm allowing you to steal one role from Madhuri and Juhi. Which role would you steal?
It's difficult to answer that. because I have done something similar to what they have done, if not the same.
Okay, what about the older heroines.
The role Nargis did in Mother India, Hema Malini in the film where she was negative... uh, Lal Patthar.
Besides challenging roles, what motivates you today - money?
Not at all.
Surprising. because one hears you are particular about your price. I presume (correct me if I am wrong), the problem is once you have raised your price, it gets difficult to accept less than what another heroine, say 'X' is demanding. Especially, if it's as much as you are.
No, no. I can never think on these lines. I am not interested in what others are asking for. My approach is, I should be happy and I should be reasonable, not rigid.
If you lower your price, don't you feel that your No.1 position is at stake?
Way back in 1983, they compared me to Jaya Prada and started this controversy of Number 1. I wasn't bothered... all I was worried about was how I look in the colour photographs they are using along with the article. If I am number 1 fine, if not, I should not let it distract me from my work. Number 1, is God's gift, if you are, well you feel happy.
Chand Ka Tudka is due of release now. How has it shaped up?
It's a fun film, it has a bit of everything, comedy song, dance, acting thrills...
And Salman Khan. How was the experience working with him? I believe he kept you waiting a couple of times.
He would come late very often. It can be quite boring sitting, when you should be working.
Why didn't you protest?
That's the producer's headache.
It's the producer's headache to promote a film too. Saawan Kumr Tak complimented you as an actress recently but said you don't take enough interest for the promotion of a film. You didn't attend the cassette release function of Chand Ka Tukda.
I was planning to, but I go held up due to personal problems. Look, I don't like attending parties as a rule. If it's a cassette release function or premiere, however, I surely make it a point to be there.
You don't meet too many people besides family and film industry. So where do you get the raw material for your roles?
To play a criminal, you don't have to go to jail (laughs). I did a role in Kshana Kshanam, a Telugu film where I played an office-going girl. In a scene, I was required to go to a photographer's studio to collect my black and white photographs. In an on-the-spot improvisation, I added a few lines to my dialogue. I said, Yeh kya prints hai. kitna dark kiya hai, par mera face aisa nahin hain. [What kind of print is this? Its so dark, my face isn't like this] After the take, the director who was taken by surprise came upto me and asked, 'You went to an office to study a working office girl?' I was amused, and said, 'Nothing like that, one should get into the skin of the character one is playing.'
Any other unforgettable experiences, something that's got embedded in your mind.
Sometimes when I think about the past, from my first film as a heroine, I laugh at myself. I was only 12, so I couldn't get the romantic expression correctly and I irritated the director no end. He tried his level best to explain to me, but I didn't get it. Finally he said, 'Look sad. When the the camera rolls, raise your eyes and straight into the camera.' I obeyed, though I wondered, what has romance got to do with looking sad? But when I saw the film, I thought to myself, 'I look quite romantic!' (laughs).
Today, do you face a similar problem while doing a romantic scene? Can you manage?
(Catching onto the joke) Of course, I think I can do a romantic scene. Later on the same director had suggested to my mother that I see some romantic films and learn. What was my mom's idea of a romantic film? Geet Gaata Chal!
When at a loss as to how to handle a scene, in the early stages of your career, did you resort to copying any person or star?
(After a long pause) No. but a number of films left a lasting impression on my mind. I saw Sharmilee at least seventeen times when I was young. Raakheeji was very good in the film. And I saw Caravan several times. I remember it for its music and dance.
Have you told Raakhee how much you liked her in Sharmilee?
I haven't met her except for a fleeting moment when I was young.
If you do, will you? Can you compliment another actress?
Of course I will. I complimented Neelam when she performed so beautifully in a show in London we did together. Raveena too, after seeing the rushes of Laadla.
You liked Raveena in Laadla!
She was good. I liked Karisma in Prem Qaidi and told her so.
What do you think of the new breed of heroes - like Shah Rukh?
I saw Darr. He is brilliant. He's totally gotten into the character. I have seen a few of the scenes of Baazigar. No I haven't seen Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naa.
So when will we see the two of you on screen together?
(Laughs gingerly) I dunno.
Over the years, newer boys and girls have been coming into the industry. At least I find it difficult to adapt my head to be on their wavelength. Do you experience a similar problem?
I am a professional. I don't think I'l have any problem. I have already done a film with Akshay. My attitude is, he is playing the character, likewise I should be playing the character. Besides, I enjoy working with new heroes.
Thankfully! We are tired of seeing you with Anil Kapoor.
Finally I leave the casting of the film to my director and producer. I never discuss my hero. So I was really surprised when a magazine once accused me of favoritism. They said I was trying to tell directors which heroes to take. I've never done that in my life.
Tell me why aren't you doing films like Rakesh Roshan's Anil-Jackie film, Koi Jeeta, Koi Haara (a remake of Indecent Proposal).
Its not fair to say anything now that Juhi is doing it now.
It's said, it had some revealing scenes...
Yah, I had to wear a swimming costume. So I decided to opt out rather than create a fuss on the sets.
But you must have discussed with Rakesh Roshan?
He said it's very important for the film, because the hero imagines the heroine this way. I thought I would be very uncomfortable doing it. If the director thinks it necessary, I can't be stubborn. Then, I have a choice to do the film or not do it at all.
Also there was another scene between the husband and wife...a bedroom scene?
Yes. I didn't even mention that scene to him. I thought to myself, 'It's like saying poora picture change kar do' [change the entire film]. So I gave up.
What if it's an art film? Something stark and realistic and with a favourite director. Like Shekhar Kapur's film on Phoolan Devi, Bandit Queen, with cuss words and bold scenes.
Look, I still have a lot of time for those kind of films. Ideally, I would like to do an artistically satisfying performance with the commercial framework. This combination though difficult, is the best.
Would you do a Rudaali?
I haven't seen it.
How many films do you see on an average?
I see a lot of movies, in both Hindi and English. That's all I do after pack-up.
A day before your film is released, do you still get butterflies in your stomach?
(Very ticked by the butterflies-in-the stomach phrase) No, not at at all. Jo hoga, woh hoga [whatever happens, happens], why get tense? It's not going to help me.
Do you do puja [prayers] on the Friday morning, when the film is releasing?
I do puja, everyday.
But do you make an extra prayer for the film's success?
Of course I do! Naturally. I would be lying if I say, I don't.
Have you ever thought in terms of how long you are going to be in the film industry?
I never plan things. Let's see.
What if tomorrow, God forbid, the roles stop coming in?
If it ever happens like that, I'll think the first half is over and the second half (after interval) has started.
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