The Eighties had its heroines Jaya Prada, Meenakshi Seshadri, Dimple Kapadia, but it was Sridevi who was the star. Initially, however, she was panned for her thunder thighs, her five-star hotel bills, her ignorance of Hindi and her squeaky voice. Her metamorphosis from a raw southern siren to a Yash Chopra heroine was gradual but emphatic. For a decade and more, she held the nation in thrall.
Director Shekhar Kapur who directed her in Mr India says, "A director always looks for an actor who can surprise him. It was very tough to direct her in dance sequences because she performs as an actress and not as a dancer, so you didn't know whether to focus on her facial expressions or her body movements."
|Sridevi and Akshay Kumar in Meri Biwi Ka Jawab Nahin|
It was only when the Sri wave was ebbing that the Madhuri current rose. One can say that the era of female super-stardom ended after the two heroines. Juhi Chawla, Kajol, Rani Mukerji and Kareena Kapoor come close, but the domination of a Sri or Madhuri is yet to be replicated.
As Madhuri readies to start afresh with Gulab Gang, Sri reboots her acting with the Gauri Shinde-directed English Vinglish, slated to release later this month. We catch up with her at her Andheri bungalow just as Coco, her dog — which younger daughter Khushi spotted in New York and was flown down — is claiming her attention. Between attending to Coco and sipping warm water, Sri gets candid about all things past and future.
Excerpts from the interview:
You are back on the big screen after 15 years. What are you feeling?
Fifteen years sounds like a long time, but I was so busy with my children that I never felt it. I enjoyed every moment of being away from the camera. Everywhere I went, people used to tell me to come back. That made me feel good.
Was it an easy decision to quit acting?
It was the easiest decision I've ever taken. Being a mother is the most beautiful aspect of one's life and I wanted to enjoy it 100 per cent.
Was it difficult to face the camera for English Vinglish after so long?
It was the same as it has always been. The moment the camera switches on, I become the character. I love the whizzing sound the camera makes. The moment I hear it, I forget all that has been bothering me, all the nitty-gritty details of life and let the character take over. I surrender myself to my director. I believe in spontaneity and never plan a take.
Is there a ritual that you follow when you start a shoot?
I've always been a religious person. I never leave the house without saying my puja and I've inculcated this habit in my husband (Boney Kapoor) and daughters (Jhanvi and Khushi). When I'm on the set, before the camera rolls and I have to go for my shot, I close my eyes for a moment, say a prayer and compose my energy.
Do you remember the first time you faced the camera?
I was too young to realise what it meant, I didn't even know ki acting hoti kya hai. (I didn't even know what acting was about). I was four years old. It was for the Tamil film, Kandan Karunai where I played Lord Murugan. I loved sitting in the chair as they put make-up on my face. I felt as if I was in some other world.
|Sridevi as a child artist|
It was the script. The story is so sensitive and I could relate to it. I couldn't find any reason to say no.
In English Vinglish, your character doesn't know how to converse in English. Did the role strike a personal chord? When you entered Hindi films, you didn't know Hindi...
You know, they used to call me Parrot when I started my career. Not just Hindi, I didn't even know Malayalam and Kannada but I still did films in those languages. I've always been good at maroing ratta (memorising lines), I could mug up two-page dialogues in five minutes. Now we get bound scripts, we have a language coach and we do workshops. Earlier, writers used to write on the sets. We used to get fresh dialogues, if you know what I mean (laughs).
If you could take only three DVDs from your filmography to an island, which ones would make the cut?
(Laughs) If I'm going to an island, I'll take track pants and shoes. I'd rather walk around than watch a film.
What if the resident island God insisted on you watching films, then?
Ummm… I'll take Sadma, Mr India and my Tamil film Moondru Mudichu.
|Anil Kapoor and Sridevi in Lamhe|
Ok, if you insist, I'll take Lamhe! (Laughs)
Thanks. But don't you think Lamhe is one of your best performances?
I love the film but I still feel that the climax of the film went wrong. I feel Lamhe can be divided into two halves: the rest of the movie and the climax. Maybe it's my mindset, but I wasn't convinced that the man (Kunwar Viren Pratap Singh played by Anil Kapoor) could suddenly fall in love with the daughter (Pooja). Throughout the film, he keeps telling her that he loves her mother and then suddenly in the climax he says, I love you. She even retorts: "Mujhse ya meri soorat se?" His change of heart was too sudden.
Did you share your misgivings with Yash Chopra when you were making the film?
I've always felt this way but Yashji was convinced about his ending and ultimately it's the director's film, and like always, I surrendered.
Since we are on your iconic films, what are your memories of Chaalbaaz?
I had the greatest time shooting this film. Director Pankaj Parashar used to write the scene on the set, we used to improvise and shoot. I loved enacting Manju's character, she was such a prankster. I loved the song Naa jaane kahan se aayi hai.
Songs remind me of your dances. How do you rate yourself as a dancer?
I've never felt that I'm a good dancer. I enjoyed dancing, I feel it, I worked hard on it but I don't think I'm a perfect dancer. My association with Sarojji (choreographer Saroj Khan) was very fruitful, she made me look good.
What's your favourite song memory?
I'm reminded of Nagina's Main teri dushman.The song was shot after much of the movie was complete. It was the last day of the shoot and we were shooting till 5 am. It was an uncomfortable song since I had to wear lenses and the entire focus was on the eye movements. It was the last day of the shoot, they were dismantling the set. It was a huge haveli ka set and by the time I finished the song, they had removed everything except a wall and I was dancing in front of it! Till date, I find this very amusing.
No one has done justice to chiffon saris the way you have. How did it start?
I've always loved saris. I remember asking my mother to give me saris even when I was a child. I've always loved pastel colours. In Mr India, for the Kaate nahin kat te song, there was a choice between a blue sari and an Arabian styled dress. Shekhar (director Shekhar Kapur) was keen on the dress but I felt the sari would look better and he agreed. It looked good on screen, didn't it?
You are known for being a director's actor. Yashji (Chopra) mentioned that during the shooting of Lamhe, you lost your father and you came back on the sets after his funeral and shot a comedy sequence.
Yes, I remember how tough it was to come back and laugh when I was completely shattered...
What do you attribute this discipline and professionalism to?
You know, my mom used to say that I was the most obedient child. Once when I was five years old, she made me sit on the parapet of our neighbour's wall. She told me to sit and that she'll be back in five minutes. She forgot and when she returned after three-four hours, I was still sitting on the parapet. I've always been obedient and that has continued in my work. My mother has been a great role model. She wasn't an educated person but she managed the business and the home beautifully and always told me to give my best. I've always followed her advice.
I don't know how to react to this question. I never had any inkling of what was being said about me. I just picked the films I liked. I've always kept it very simple.
|Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor in Gurudev|
(Blushes) Aiyyo. I never thought of this. I have just realised how many roles I have done.
The consensus is that the era of the female superstar ended with you and Madhuri. What do you feel about the current female actors?
I don't agree that today's girls don't have that much to do on screen. I think they are all very good. We had to learn on the job but today's girls come prepared. Look at Vidya Balan and what she has achieved with The Dirty Picture and Kahaani.
But don't you feel that today's heroines are easily interchangeable?
I don't think so. I think all of them are doing well. It's also to do with the kind of films being made.
Who do you think can do a Chaalbaaz and Chandni today?
Anyone can do it. I played double roles. Priyanka Chopra has done seven roles in Saat Khoon Maaf and 12 in What's Your Rashee, uske liye toh baaye haath ka khel hai (this is child's play for her). Deepika Padukone or Sonam Kapoor can do Chaalbaaz.
This is the 25th year of Mr India. There are talks of a sequel. What are your memories of it and will you be a part of the sequel?
It's too early to comment on the sequel since the script is still shaping up but I loved every moment of acting in Mr India. Other than Kaate nahin kat te, Hawa hawai is another great song of my career. I remember they gave me a hat to wear which had fake fruits stuck on it. I asked Shekhar if I could get real fruits on the hat. He immediately organised it and I remember during the shoot, I decided to pluck some grapes off the hat and eat them. It became a moment in the song and it was truly spontaneous. I also loved the Charlie Chaplin sequence. I watched all his videos and I was so nervous about the sequence, Shekhar kept improvising on the set, he made me wear that moustache but when I saw the sequence on screen I was like yeh main hoon kya (is that me)? Mr India is truly special.
You are known for killer diets, do you eat?
I do, but I'm happier when I see others eat, especially kids, eating ice cream.
|Jhanvi, Sridevi and Khushi Kapoor|
|Janhvi and Khushi Kapoor|
No, but my daughters like cooking. Jhanvi (Class X) makes her own lunch. She is very particular about how she likes her food. Khushi (Class VI) is great at baking. She makes yummy cakes and pastries and feeds them to Coco.
Are your daughters inclined to join films?
There is still time. I'll support any decision they take since whatever I'm today is because of this industry. Acting is a beautiful, creative profession and there is great joy in it. Right now, my girls are busy with their studies. They are doing well in school, so let's see what the future holds.
Finally, is English Vinglish just a one-off or are you open to doing more movies?
I'm looking forward to doing more films. I'm happy that I'm in a position to pick and choose.
New Delhi, Sat Sep 08 2012