JEWELS IN THE CROWN
Like major comets, superstars don't come our way very often. Sridevi is a genuine item who ruled over the last decade. Nimble comedy, luminous sensuality, evocative emotionalism... this marvelous maverick gave memory-clutching performances in a variety of roles.
Even when the rest of the film was dead, Sridevi was a killer. So when the film was good, Sri made it fairly resonate with her talent.
As a tribute, MOVIE asks Sridevi to pick her 10 best films that would showcase a lifetime's achievement in the pursuit of the superlative.
Flaring nostrils and with a whip in hand, the swim-suited Thunder Thighs drew massive sighs from the masses. During the Ta-thaiya-ta-thaiya number, she had the audience literally drowning the song with wolf-whistles at her jhatkas amongst the matkas.
But she was always more than just a sex doll. A Niagara of energy, she had a jazzy insouciance. Moreover, she played with a child's ease with an awesome array of expressions.
Sridevi: "After the failure of Solva Saal (co-starring Amol Palekar) when I was doing Himmatwala, to be honest, I was not at all interested. Matlab [I mean], i was like Solva Saal is a disaster, now I can never make it in Hindi cinema'. In fact, when Jeetuji agreed to work with me, I was shocked that he had agreed to work with a flop heroine. Though my character in Himmatwala is of a very loud and proud girl, I was unusually quiet on the sets. For one, I was not confident of my making it big. Two, there were all these heavy-weights like Amjad Khanji, Kader Khanji, Shakti Kapoor and Jeetuji, who I had to do scenes with (during Solva Saal, the whole unit had been from the south itself). My feeling was like… jo pehle din school main bacchi jaati hai na [like when a girl goes to school on her first day], like that. Once or twice Jeetuji even asked me, 'Aren't you interested in working in Hindi films? Why are you so quiet?' What could I tell him?
When within days of its release I came to know that he film is a super duper hit, I just couldn't believe it!"
An emotionally fraught story of a beautiful young girl whose mentality digresses to that of an eight year old when she meets with an accident. A young man (Kamal Haasan) rescues her from a brothel and becomes her guardian angel. With painstaking care and tenderness, he parts the fogs enveloping her mind and finally restores her equilibrium.
But now she doesn't recognize Kamal! The last scene where Kamal, hobbling, failing, gesticulating… tries desperately to remind Sridevi of their times together, while Sri stares at him with a detached curiosity (like one would at mad man), is one of the most heartrending scenes in the annals of our cinema.
Sridevi's performance is electrifying. She walks the thin line as a child-woman without once looking ludicrous. Unlike any other heroine, she has this unique ability - to make all those tongue-sticking-out and eye-rolling gestures seem not affected but extremely affecting.
Sridevi: "Most people feel, and I agree, that I was better in the original Tamil version. I am a spontaneous actress. My first take is always the best. The second take is often a copy of the first. Especially if you have been very good in the first. Spontaneity chali jaati hai [disappears]. Because I was more comfortable speaking Tamil than Hindi. And both Kamal and I did a lot of improvisation on the sets in the Tamil version, which wasn't possible in Hindi, because language hi samajh nahi aati thi [I didn't understand]. But jo bhi Tamil version nahin dekha, they liked Sadma.
Also Sadma was interesting because it came within three-four months of Himmatwala's release and was in sharp contrast. Himmatwala was purely commercial. The dialogue was artificial, the setting jhatak matak, whereas Sadma was true to life, so much more natural. But each has a special place in my heart."
Hocus pocus, hoodoo voodoo. Sridevi plays an ichhadhari naagin whose ichha for her husband's spirit trapped in a human form leads her to Rishi Kapoor. Of course she also has to fend off snake charmer Amrish Puri who wants the snakey spouses to lead him to the invaluable naag-mani.
The film created quite a hiss and a sputter at the box office. Sri especially shimmers with feeling. As the contact-lensed avenger singing 'Main teri dushman, dushman tu mera' she spits pure venom, displaying a mesmerising mastery over her art.
Sridevi: "Yes between '83 to '86 there was no real performance, except perhaps for a Tohfa. You know, every time you do a film, you feel all the while that this film is good and so I have to give the best. But no one can be 100 per cent sure of the outcome.
Nagina was a very unusual story, with some excellent music. Especially the song 'Main teri dushman.'
Talking about Rishi Kapoor, he is a very spontaneous actor. It is good to have a co-star who contributes to a scene, otherwise if he is not reacting or sirf main kuch karti rahungi, then I shall look like a fool."
MR INDIA (1987)Sridevi makes you laugh… when as a reporter writing the wrongs of society, she wiggles her bottom into the camera and goes Hawa Hawaii, when she out-Charlies Chaplin himself or when her eyeballs do a 360 degree roll and she mock-threatens to throw out a basketball.
Sridevi makes you cry… when having offended the orphans with her 'lay off me' stance, she tries to woo them back with a box of goodies, her eyes welling up with tears as she tries to make light of a tense situation.
Sridevi makes you breathe heavily - the heat is on full blast in Kaate nahin katte.
Anil Kapoor is either invisible or visible when Sridevi isn't in the same frame.
Sridevi: From childhood, I have been a fan of Charlie Chaplin. Also Laurel and Hardy. So when I got a chance to do comedy and that too one which included a takeoff on Charlie Chaplin, I had a ball.
Originally, there were just supposed to be a couple of shots in the Chaplinesque get-up. But when Shekhar saw me in the get-up and once he realized that I could walk like Charlie too, he got carried away. He wanted to picturise a song on me. However, Veeru Masterji suggested that we could incorporate a fight-sequence. A one day shooting stretched on to 10 days and the scene became a highlight of the film.
As a director, Shekhar Kapur is the best thing that can happen to an artiste. Though he is an actor, he won't enact out the scene for you. He will give me a scene and ask me to do it in 20 different ways. Even if it's only a close-up. Then he will select one. If he doesn't like any, he'll say, 'Show me another!' It's amazing… I can't even describe it. He is really good."
A small-town girl, Chandni (Sridevi) falls in love big time, with a city slicker, Rishi Kapoor. However, in his over-zealousness to impress her, he showers flowers over her from a copter which unfortunately comes crashing down. Crippled and frustrated, Rishi turns their love life into a battlefield, eventually terminating their relationship.
But just when Sridevi is rebuilding her life with the help of Vinod Khanna, Rishi walks out of the wheelchair and back into her life.
Sridevi brings emotional colour to a complex role. She makes the bubbliness of the first half and her muteness of the second half seem like strains of the same emotion.
Sridevi: I don't have any one favorite film but Chandni, Nagina and Mr. India are my three absolute favorites.
It's not very often that a character you play is like you. To an extent Chandni is. The character of a small town girl who with the passage of time and because of her experiences in the city, becomes a woman who can handle her own life is like me. Except in Chandni, Rishi got out of the woman's life, but no man went out of my life (laughs).
With Yash Chopra, making a film is a pleasure. It's like picnic ke liye aaye hain aur kaam karate karate ho jaata hai [we came for a picnic and somehow we got work done]. He is so smart, in one day, he cans 20 shots. But nobody minds it, he is great fun.
Ram Aur Shyam and Seeta Aur Geeta retold, but with Pankaj Parashar's slick editing and fast-paced narration, you get no time to think. Melodrama is minimal (unlike in the earlier hit versions), comedy roof-reaching.
Irascible and irresistible, Sridevi invests her double role with a spoofiness that's just right. you laugh with her, while she laughs at the two diverse roles: of the butterfly in the net and the butterfly who is really a gnat. While Rajnikant revels in her company, Sunny falls short… When it comes to being a scene-stealer kissike haath na aayegi yeh ladki [no one can touch this girl].
Sridevi: I knew Hema Malini had one a similar role earlier in Seeta Aur Geeta and so had Dilip Kumar in Ram Aur Shyam, but that didn't stop me from interpreting the role in my own style. I just did my role without giving much thought to the past. The director Pankaj Parashar has the knack of making even a simple and seemingly inconsequential scene like my going to meet Sunny Deol at home with a a marriage proposal, hilarious. He can improvise tremendously.
When a graying Anil Kapoor realizes that he is loved by the young daughter (Sridevi) of his one-time unrequited love (Sridevi again!), he recoils. Rooted in memories of the past, he finds it difficult to cope with his own increasing attraction.
In a ground-breaking climax, he buries the ghosts of the past and finally accepts the young Sri for her own worth.
Sridevi carefully delineates mother and daughter as two very different people: enacting the mother's role with subtle passion and poignancy and imbuing the daughter with contemporaneous amour and overt desire. Best of all, she sensitizes us to the feelings of both these diverse women.
Sridevi: An extremely endearing film, the subject was too bold for the Indian audience. It was too classy and made before its time. Definitely, if re-released 10 years from now, it will be a big hit. I think the audience couldn't accept the fact that the hero who loved the mother married the daughter eventually. I think instead, if she had just left him and gone away the film would have worked. But now one can only speculate.
Lamhe was an unforgettable experience, because of working with Yashji and of the appreciation it fetched, both in India and abroad. It still surprises one that a film with flopped can be loved by so many people.
Built on the customary Bollywood pillars of romance and action, it gives Sridevi a go at another double role. As the Pathan's (Amitabh's) new wife, she waits in vain for him to keep his promise to return before losing her senses. As their daughter, she has only un-pent contempt for her father until she reunites her Pathan parents after the patent fights.
Sri outshines even her shoulder-bendingly heavy, white and gold ensembles. That even a ridiculous scene like her regaining her sanity when she sees her husband becomes plausible, is a stunning testament to her talent.
Sridevi: It was an unusual setting, unusual role. Lovely rich costumes, unheard of locales. Rugged mountains and a very interesting double role of a sad mother and a bubbly daughter. The reunion scene with a grey haired me and bearded Amitabh joining hands to fight the villains was quite emotional.
I had worked with Amitabh earlier in Inquilaab but at that time I was too young. I was like a bacchi [child] with a giant. I was in awe of the stature and only had a few scenes as his wife with him, besides a couple of songs. But by the time we got to do Khuda Gawah, we were very comfortable with each other. He is a great hero, one of the best.
Made a scapegoat by her suave, smuggler boyfriend (Rahul gelled Roy!), Sridevi is doomed to die in a Hong Kong prison, straight out of hell. However, small time pick-pocketeer and ardent admirer, Sanjay Dutt tries everything in the book to get her off the hook. After a violent jail break, he frees her from the nightmarish prison and also reunites her with her estranged father, Anupam Kher.
A now-thrilling, now-tepid takeoff on Bangkok Hilton, the only thing consistently good about the film is Sridevi. Watch her silent crumbling as Soni Razdan, a prisoner friend, is sent to the gallows - she acts with finely nuanced precision even in those scenes that are a cry straight form the heart.
Sridevi: I like two scenes form Gumraah. One, where I am caught unawares at the airport with the hash smuggled into my bag and am trying to plead my innocence with a Chinese officer who doesn't understand my language. We did the scene in one take, after only a dialogue rehearsal. The emotions all just came rushing out. I don't believe in method acting or preparations. Also my co-artists were very good - Tom Alter and this Chinese guy from China Creek (eek!). I mean the owner of China Garden? No? Some other Chinese restaurant then!
The other favorite scene of mine is my mother's death scene. All I told Mahesh for that scene was, give me the freedom to move from the bed to the wall and he said 'fine'. He is very flexible. People had unnecessarily scared me about him. 'He is not your kind of director, he's loud and brash, he'll shout at you.' On the contrary, when I worked with him, I discovered he is a thorough gentleman. He doesn't discuss a scene at all. Just before the camera rolls, he comes and says some magical words in your ears and you are shared and ready."
Less of a tycoon, this lady (Sridevi) is more of a typhoon. Spoilt to the core, she is sore at her cheeky factory worker, Anil Kapoor. In a bid to avenge his insulting ways, she manipulates a marriage with him, even though he loves the receptionist, Raveena Tandon. Once married, the clerk behaves like a goon, and tames the tycoon.
An exercise in chauvinistic excesses, Sridevi, however, has her moments, few and far between as they are - for instance, the scene where she fantasies treating Anil kapoor as a ghulaam (shades of 9 to 5?). The shrew comes a full circle from Himmatwala to Laadla. Not my favorite, Laadla but Sridev's yes.
Sridevi: I refused the Tamil and Telugu version of Laadla because I thought its a negative role, the audience will hate me. However, when they became big hits, I realized I had made a mistake. So when I was approached for the Hindi version (after Divya Bharathi's death), I accepted it, without hesitating. I liked the character. She's not killing anyone. She's not a vamp. She is very strict and very demanding. I am demanding too, I want everything to be perfect. Whether it's my house or my dress I never compromise. But that's where my similarity with the Laadla characters begins and ends (laughs!).
NOTES FROM BLOGGER:
The feature ran in MOVIE magazine in early 1995.