Ashok Salian shoots Sridevi for the August 1991 cover of Cine Blitz.
She's been away from the glare of publicity and there's a reason for that. A very definite one. The tension has been mounting. The pressures have been building. The personal trauma has exhausted her. And if on screen a mask came easily, personally, Sreedevi was hurting far too much for that.
But like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes, she's just about emerging from what was...
Sreedevi's private Hell!
Earlier this year in London, it was no different than Bombay or Madras. She donned her make-up, shed the reserved veneer and enthralled Yash Chopra and his Lamhe cameras. As usual, the onlookers watched in awe, after all, it was the great Sreedevi at work. So in the midst of this extremely professional happening, nobody wished to be the bearer of bad news. And the news was very bad...
Sreedevi was devastated. She had lost the person closest to her... her father. A flight to Madras was immediate, with a changeover in Bombay, to switch connections. And as her Roop Ki Rani... director Satish Kaushik (who saw her then) aptly puts it, "I was shocked to see her. Normally, she's so collected, in control of herself. But this one time, she was totally shattered, she was crying like a child, she broke down very badly. Usually, you look up to her with so much respect and from a distance. Here, your heart went out to her, you wanted to protect her. She was so vulnerable." Yes, this was the reality of being a human being, devoid of the greasepaint, the glamour, the fame.
One points to this incident, not to evoke painful memories for her. But to stress the point that sometimes, not all the money in the world can compensate for your emotions, for the people you love and lose. And no matter how big a star you become, you don't lose touch because of that someone bigger, who reminds you of the eventualities. For a while, Sreedevi's only resort were the tears that wouldn't stop. For once, she was not bothered about what she wore or whether her hair was in place. "She left Bombay airport in a terrible state," recounts Satish.
Hardly was she beginning to cope with the loss, than fear struck at her again. Back in Bombay from a respite of privacy in Madras, she was shooting for Roop Ki Rani... The familiar camera was switched on and with it, her ability to escape into the at imaginary world. Only this time, something was missing from her enthusiasm. Noticing a subtle difference, Satish stopped work and asked her what was wrong. At first, she insisted that it was nothing at all. "I'm sorry, I'll give you a better shot next time." When he persisted that she was not herself, she gave in, vulnerable again. "Actually, I'm very worried. I have just received news from Madras that my mother is seriously ill and has to be hospitalilsed. For three days now, they've hidden the news from me because they knew that I had to complete this schedule. They knew that it would upset me and I wouldn't be able to concentrate. But don't worry. I'll finish your work first." Despite her protest, Satish immediately called for pack-up and let her off for the day.
Soon, it was back to Madras, another dreaded journey praying that everything would be all right. At first, the doctors could not diagnose what was wrong. But finally, it was discovered to be an intestinal problem and was able to the treated. And shooting or not, Sreedevi never left her side right through her recuperation as well. With Latha already married and settled, it remained wholly Sreedevi's responsibility. Through frightened and worried, she realised that she'd have to be her mother's sole strength. Which also bring you to the point that she has had to learn to cope without Latha, who was a shrewd thinker for her sister and advised her on how to handle many a tricky situation.
Sreedevi, today, has come full circle with the fact that one is indeed a lonely number - both professionally and personally. Not that she's letting it get her down in any way. In fact, Sreedevi is finally emerging as the son her father never missed because he had her. "Her resilience and her ability to cope is tremendous," says Mukul Anand who recently met her in Madras to discuss a schedule of Khuda Gawah. "I think the worst for her is over now. In fact, I'd say that she's actually looking relaxed and happy for a change. Being on home ground does make a difference. And with eating all that home food, she's even beginning to put on a bit of weight. But what you notice most about her, is that she has finally taken charge of herself and her career, completely. Knowing that this cocoon of a protective family is no more around her, she's emerged stronger. She's now handling her dates, her schedules, everything herself. no secretary or anybody else."
Her position has, of course, had adjustments being made to suit her for the while she's been in Madras. After all, she is still in the supreme reigning position where big films cannot be completed without her. So the whole of the Roop Ki Rani... schedule which was to be shot in Bombay, was shifted there. And most out of character with a superstar heroine, this seems to have embarrassed Sreedevi. So she has punctuated the gesture with innumerable 'thank yous' and 'sorrys' that she was causing so much inconvenience to all concerned. In fact, Satish (Kaushik, director) was surprised when he received a call at the Taj (where he was staying) one morning from her. "I hope you haven't had your breakfast yet. I'm sending breakfast form home for you, Boney, Baba Azmi, everybody. You must have home food." Her way of saying that she was as concerned about them.
No, this has nothing to do with it being Boney Kapoor's unit only. No doubt her short stint of shifting in with his family caused raised eyebrows in the industry. And also set tongues wagging about the kind of personal relationship they shared. But for Sreedevi, it was more of a case of convenience - a for the moment decision, since she had no family member accompanying her to Bombay at the time.
Says a director of hers who does not wish to be named, "She's very fond of Boney and Anil's parents, particularly the mother. So she knew that it was a place where she'd be safe. She is like that, not the type of person to stay on her own in a hotel room. But Sreedevi is no fool. The minute she found the personal angle from Boney creeping in, and realised that producers were hesitant to approach her through Boney, she decided to save relations and move out. See, don't forget one thing about Sree. She reacts to people who bothered to show her a personal kindness, which the Kapoor have. When she lost her father, both Mr. and Mrs Surinder Kapoor were there for her in Madras."
Joshilay and Mr.India in which she has worked. So I was nervous about how she'd suddenly accept me as a director. But to my surprise, sensing my feelings, she went out of her way to be nice. She was very patient and never let me feel as though I was a lesser person to her status. Initially, you get hesitant about whether she has understood you or not. But once that camera's rolling she give you more than you've asked for. She doesn't have to be told a second time. This kind of thing is a God-given gift, there's nothing studied about Sreedevi - no method actress or acting school. She's just a totally natural actress.
"But there’s one thing I must stress at this point. I won't maintain that I'm very friendly with Sreedevi on a personal level. And, nobody can claim that where she’s concerned. But she definitely isn't cold and aloof as people make her out to be. She enjoys having fun. I've always cracked jokes with her - even in my assistant days and found her very responsible. I think it's just a question of her taking time to trust people. She is wary. But once you break through that, she's a very warm and sensitive person."