Archival interview with Sridevi for Filmfare magazine by Meera Joshi. Main picture from the launch of Anil Kapoor-Sridevi starrer Bus Conductor - (which got shelved).
Main picture by Rakesh Shreshta
Outfit: Manish Malhotra
To Queen Bee or not to be? Can she still keep the box-office humming? The Roop Ki Rani answers…
Has the Queen Bee lost her sting?
For nearly a decade, Sridevi was voted the numero uno heroine by the trade pundits and the media alike. Among the heroines, she demanded and received the highest pay-packet. Sure, there has been tough competition from Madhuri Dixit but after estimating both their box office bonanzas and calamities, it was clearly a tie-up between the twosome.
Sridevi called the shots in one studio and Madhuri in the other. They had their loyal producers and directors, they had their distinct fan following and to an extent, still have their faithful backers. In other words, there was room at the top for both the actresses. If Sridevi has her buoyant and bubbly style of acting, Madhuri can be sizzling and scintillating in her own special way.
And now there is Juhi Chawla, basking in the glory of hits like Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke and Darr, but quite sensibly refusing to be drawn into the number harum-scarum.
While film-makers of every stripe concede that Sridevi is a consummate artiste, of late the trade has been abuzz with the talk that the queen’s days are numbered. Some of her producers as well as heroes have switched to Juhi, and some have even stated (off-the-record of course) that Madame should come off her high horse. Or that she should reduce her price.
It’s also being said that films with Salman Khan – Chaand Kaa Tukdaa – being made by Sawan Kumar Tak, isn’t as red hot a proposition as it was when it was flagged off a couple of years ago. However, it goes without saying that if Madame was to hit another boundary or sixer, the same carping Cassandras would be whistling another tune.
For trade watchers and fans, the questions of the day are: Will Sridevi come out triumphant? Or is she fighting a losing battle? The answers hinge, as they always do, on those things called luck and chance. Yet when you meet her at the Mehboob studio in the midst of a shooting schedule, the actress who will always be remembered for her wide range of performances, seems to be unfazed. Evidently, she’s a fighter and intends to tackle the downturn in her career. Without much more ado then, you ask:
At present you have only four films in hand. How come?
Sridevi: Believe me, it’s out of choice. I don’t know why some directors are going around claiming that I’m doing their films. I can’t understand how this industry functions. How can they talk like that? I’ve turned down 15 offers because I’ve understood the need to be selective. Earlier, I’d take on a film only on the basis of the character I was asked to play but now I know that the entire project is important – the producer, the director, the story and the script. I may have been a little careless earlier. But I’ve never ever signed on each and every film offered to me. I have a very unusual role in Laadla which will be my next release.
Is it true that Boney Kapoor persuaded producer Nitin Manmohan to sign you for Laadla after Divya Bharati’s death?
Sridevi: Really? Who told you that? All I can say is that I was first approached for the film’s Telugu version Gharana Mugudu but I turned it down because I was confused about the character they wanted me to portray. Again I was Nitin Manmohan’s first choice for the Hindi version, I couldn’t say “Yes” because of dates. So Divya was signed. After her tragic death, I was approached again. Since I was the original choice anyway, I don’t think anyone did any kind of lobbying on my behalf. It’s true that the producer brought Boneyji along when he came to request me to reconsider his offer.
Why did you reconsider a project in which you had found your character confusing?
Sridevi: Because the character has been much more sharply defined in the Hindi version. I play a tough and arrogant woman. It’s a role with plenty of potential.
Something on the lines of the role of the no-nonsense sister in Chaalbaaz?
Sridevi: That was a fun-loving character who starts drinking the minute she’s upset. In Laadla I’m very disciplined.
Do you have high expectations of Meri Biwi Ka Jawab Nahin?
Sridevi: Of course, I do. I play a housewife. There are many touching as well as comic scenes. I speak in the Bhojpuri dialect throughout the film. Just two more schedules and it should be complete.
You are working with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar. Do you feel comfortable working with these heroes?
Sridevi: What are you implying? That we’re mismatched? Hardly! I can’t help it if I’ve been working since I was a child… I just happen to have more experience than them. There could have been objections only if they were younger than me… Moreover, I haven’t gone out of my way to make producers pair them with me.
Whatever happened to cameraman-director Manmohan Singh’s Teerandaaz in which you’ve been cast opposite Sunny Deol?
Sridevi: None of us was quite happy with the subject, so we’re trying to improve on it. That’ll perhaps take another couple of months and only then will the project get going.
Why have you been replaced by Juhi Chawla in Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Jeeta Koi Haara?
Sridevi: The subject didn’t appeal to me.
I believe you refused to wear a swimming costume for the film.
Sridevi: That’s only one of the reasons for turning down the film, I’m not comfortable in a swimming costume; when I feel awkward it’s bound to be captured by the camera. I wouldn’t be able to do justice to such a scene. But the director was adamant about the scene – the hero visualizing the heroine in a swimming costume. Instead of creating problems for the director later, I declined right away. Who knows he may have required other such scenes as well. I will never make such compromises.
But you’ve worn swimsuits earlier…
Sridevi: In Himmatwala I merely stood around in a swimsuit and in Karma I immediately put on my robe. I felt uneasy doing those scenes…In fact, I’d like to make one point clear – I am not desperate for roles. If I was, I wouldn’t be turning down offers. I’m not interested in light inconsequential roles, surely I can do much more than sing and dance.
What news about Sapnon Ka Saudagar with Anil Kapoor?
Sridevi: They’re thinking of changing the title. The film was supposed to start in January but it will now begin in March.
Tradewallahs say that Juhi has replaced you in the film.
Sridevi: Why should she? I haven’t been asked to wear a swimming costume in that film. (tongue-in-cheek).
What do you have to say about Yash Chopra giving Juhi the Sridevi look in Darr?
Sridevi: Is that right? I’m surprised. I’m happy for Yashji since the film is doing well. I haven’t seen Darr but Juhi looks very pretty in the excerpts I’ve seen on television. If Yashji has given her…as you call it… the Sridevi look, I don’t see anything wrong in that.
Any negative reactions from your fans lately?
Sridevi: Yes, they didn’t react well to Chandramukhi. I’ve received so much flak for it. Everyone wants to know why I did that project, they say I was wasted.
Do they also say that your performances are getting monotonous… that you’re repeating yourself?
Sridevi: That’s unfair! My performances in Lamhe, Khuda Gawah and Gumrah were all very different and I was appreciated by the audience as well as the critics.
Have you recovered from the debacle of Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja?
Sridevi: I admit I played the typical Hindi film heroine in Roop Ki Rani… what else could I do when there was no scope for anything else? It was four years in the making – when a film stretches things are bound to go haywire. No single person can be blamed for it.
Why have you returned in a big way to Telugu films?
Sridevi: I’ve seen headlines screaming, “Sridevi’s comeback to Telugu films!” What comeback, I’d like to ask. I’ve been doing a Telugu film annually for the last six years. Since it’s my mother tongue I like to keep in touch.
Even when your South films aren’t doing too well there?
Sridevi: Says who? My last release – Govinda Govinda with Nagarjuna – is doing well in the cities. Since the subject didn’t have mass appeal, it failed in the rural areas. Such things happen.
Wouldn’t it be prudent to reduce your price at this juncture?
Sridevi: But I’ve never given too much importance to price. My fee has always varied according to the set-up and I’ll continue to work like that. If my price had been a sore point with producers, they would have stopped approaching me.
Why did you have tiff with Saroj Khan who’s choreographed some of your best dances?
Sridevi: We never had any problems. Saawan Kumarji was upset when she couldn’t make it for an entire dance schedule. I did try to persuade him to take her on again but he was reluctant. I didn’t think it would be wise on my part to keep insisting beyond a point. Sarojji and I will probably be working together in Meri Biwi Ka Jawab Nahin.
Weren’t you upset with her because you felt she was working harder on Madhuri Dixit’s dances?
Sridevi: Don’t be absurd.
What if the dance masters asked you to do some specially provocative movements?
Sridevi: They wouldn’t dare. When they’re working out the steps, they keep watching my reaction, and they know exactly what I’ll do and what I won’t.
Do you regret doing any roles?
Sridevi: Even if I do, do you think I’d name them? Seriously, sometimes a role doesn’t come up to your expectations. That’s it, you’re helpless.
What’s your dream role?
Sridevi: I do have one dream role but I’ll never have the guts to do it. It’s the role Julia Roberts played in Pretty Woman, which was cute. Pankuj Parashar wanted to do a remake but when I backed out, the project was dropped.
Who’s your favourite actress?
Sridevi: Meryl Streep. She was so good in She-Devil, Heartburn and Death Becomes Her. She stands out even in an average film.
Do you every research your roles?
Sridevi: No, I’m absolutely spontaneous! If the director asks me to repeat something in a second take it’s just not possible. I can try to imitate the first take but it won’t be the same. I rarely need rehearsals. The crying and screaming scenes in Khuda Gawah and Gumrah were all straight takes. We even improvised on the sets for Chaalbaaz and Gumrah.
What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Sridevi: What’s the time just now?
It’s almost noon.
Sridevi: I see myself packing lunch to send to my children at school.
When are planning to get married?
Sridevi: The day I find the right man. The bechara fellow still has to come my way. He has no idea of what’s in store for him because I’m very possessive.
What’s your ideal man like?
Sridevi: Simple, down to earth. He shouldn’t be talkative at all. Looks are important but I don’t like Greek gods who can be heartless. A pleasant-looking man, a loving guy will be just fine. And he must be tall so that I can wear my high heels. I’ve asked my mother to be on the look-out for someone but she’s fed up of trying. She pesters me to go out and meet people more often. I guess I’ll just wait for the right man to materialize. Like magic.
How do you spend your second Sundays – the one off-day in show-town?
Sridevi: I sleep late, loaf around in the house. Sometimes my family comes from Madras and we make plans to live it up but somehow things just don’t happen. At most, I go to the health club.
Is that the secret of your trim figure?
Sridevi: Right now I’ve put on weight. But I’m lucky… my body’s very flexible. I love sweets, I can’t do without ice-creams and milk shakes everyday. So when I find my face rounder than it should be, I only eat boiled food and I’m back to normal in four days. In the rain song in Lamhe, Megha re megha, I was fat and paunchy but in the jazz song, Moments of Rage, which we shot four days later, I was slim.
There were rumours that you went in for liposuction.
Sridevi: Even if I wanted to, my mother would never allow it. Forget surgery, I’m scared of injections! See this small selling on my lips? Though it doesn’t show in films, it’s very prominent in photographs. I got it when I fainted in the bathroom after a hectic work schedule. Doctors say it can be cured through surgery but I keep putting if off. If I can carry this on my face for so long, how can I even think of liposuction?
Who starts these rumours? They make me feel funny and sad… I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Her chances are…
She may be going through a bad phase but her market position is still strong. If she has had a row of flops, it’s because she chose some wrong films and was paired some wrong heroes like Salman Khan in Chandramukhi.
If you ask me Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla are in the same slot today. If some people are saying that there have been too many films of Sridevi, then that’s true of the other two actresses as well. There is little doubt that Sridevi is a marvelous actress; if she gets the right director, story and of course, a hero who doesn’t look awkward with her, then she will certainly outclass the competition.
She’s still the best. Flops can’t take away any artiste’s talent. Like the caliber of Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan can never be in doubt even though some of their films may not have been box-office successes. Today, we remember Madhubala and Meena Kumari with great affection. Twenty to thirty years from now, the new generation will hold Sridevi in high regard as well. She’s a professional who takes care of details – like her make-up and costumes. She can be fanatically dedicated. I remember we were shooting the rain-dance, Kaate nahin Katte for Mr India. She had high temperature but refused to call of the shooting that day.
She is one of the finest actresses, a tremendous dancer and a pucca professional. I had tried to present her differently in Chandni – in white and with very little jewellery. Even in Lamhe, she was so striking in the double role of a woman from Rajasthani backdrop and her boisterous daughter. I am asked why I cast Juhi instead of Sri in Darr. That’s because the role wouldn’t have suited Sri – the girl had to look frightened and weak. Darr was a hero-oriented subject. I’m told that I have given Juhi the Sridevi look. I don’t quite agree. I gave Juhi the Chandni look, the look of North Indian girl. Will I work with Sri in the future? I admire her… so why shouldn’t I? But where will I find a suitable subject for her?
I have done 15 films with Sri. Her sincerity and her inborn gift for acting brought her forward. She has carried herself very well and to this day, one cannot guess how old she is though she has been playing the heroine for the last 12 years. It could be a case of overexposure but somehow she has changed her look and dress-sense to keep pace with the times. Her films like Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and Chandramukhi may have come in for a lot of criticism but no one had a bad word to say about Sri’s performances.
Filmfare April 1994