Remembering the magical Hawa-Hawai Diva!

On her 56th Birthday, August 13, Monojit Lahiri traces the life and times of the late super-star Sridevi, whom neither age can chill nor rivals steal

Photo by Dinodia Photos/Getty Images
Photo by Dinodia Photos/Getty Images

Manojit Lahiri

Bollywood is a dazzling universe. The ultimate, definitive, never-never-land-of-happy-ever-after for the stressed-out junta, dreaming of everything exciting, glamorous and romantic. The stars that rule this empire are not humans, but gods & goddesses. They are not merely loved and admired but worshipped by their hysterical devotees. However, there is a flip-side too, a terrifying side that shows how cruel and insensitive these very devotees can be once, the star’s sell-by-date arrives. Suddenly, collective amnesia from the hydra-headed monster called audiences can play havoc, dumping the once-revered deities with alarming speed and replacing them with the latest, younger, hotter and more desirable flavours of the day. Very few are remembered & hardly any saluted once their golden days are over. As for considering them benchmarks &timeless icons, one can count on one’s fingers how many stars fit that elusive slot.

Sridevi, who died early last year, must belong to that rare breed. Her shocking & untimely demise at the young age of 54 is an irreparable loss to the industry and her zillion devotees. Starting out at age 4 as a child-star and getting into romantic mode at age 10-11, this amazing performer, blending irresistible oomph with mischief, only had to appear on screen to light it up in matchless fashion. A hugely successful star across all the Southern states, Sridevi was Bollywood’s first authentic female super-star. Fact is she dominated the 80’s when action was the main draw and heroes were centre stage. Her astonishing performances in Mr.India, Chaalbaaz and Nagina wiped out the male lead good n’ proper! In all truth, till date no one has been able to replicate her mass-draw with the audiences, trade and critics alike. The Chandni and Hawa-Hawai charmer who didn’t know a word of Hindi when she entered Bollywood, only to race past earlier Southie heavies like Vyjantimala & Hema Malini, was truly something else …

Today, as we look back on her body of work, we are zonked! The diversity of roles, the depth and range across genres is the only one part of the story. The other is the astonishing ease and effortlessness with which she delivered her knock-out performances. So totally camera-friendly, uninhibited & spontaneous a star is very difficult to locate, but Sridevi, time and again unleashed her brand of magic to mesmerise every viewer privileged to witness her chutzpah in action! Drama, romance, comedy, song-dance, she embraced the Bollywood template with a passion and purpose that was truly remarkable.

Finally coming to the point: What was so remarkable, special & exclusive that this amazingly shy, reticent and reserved person – off-screen – brought to the screen? What did Sridevi have that no other heroine had? Renowned author and editor Rauf Ahmed believes “it was sensuousness of a very special kind. No heroine before Sri ever let go in such uninhibited fashion, in the dance numbers. You see the kaate nahin nahin katate body language in Mr India or the sizzling stuff in a Feroz Khan’s Jaanbaaz, and it shakes you up! There is not one ounce of self-consciousness or vulgarity, only the wild abandon of romance. The super song-dance sequences in Chaalbaaz, Chandni and Lamhe too come into reckoning. Like the legendary Garbo, she and the camera were magical soul-mates, lovers, eternally romancing each other in style. The moment the camera was off, she - amazingly – returned to her quiet, shy and reserved self.” Ahmed adds that beyond the sensuousness, Sri was also an unmatched talent in the area of versatility. “Don’t forget she started out with Jumping Jack Jeetu in pot-boilers like Himmatwala, Mawali, Justice Chowdhry, Tohfa etc. They were all films from the South and all very successful. They demanded a kind of loud and hammy-performance which the young aspirant pulled off admirably. A quick learner, she matured in her journey by maintaining an intelligent focus on what her directors wanted from her and how best she could deliver. Never judgmental, be it Yash Chopra’s Lamhe and Chandni, Shekhar Kapoor’s Mr India and Joshilay or Pankaj Parashar’s Chaalbaaz, she dazzled across all genres. Along the way, she also did a Sadma inviting startled fans to wonder whether she was for real!” Writer-Director R Balki [whose wife Gauri Shinde wrote & directed English-Vinglish, her charming and successful comeback film] puts it down to a talent that is “instinctive, intuitive, spontaneous – a natural! It’s a gift that cannot be acquired through training or whatever. You are blessed with it – or not. Period.”

Today, as we pay homage to this remarkable talent whose persona & work will always stay with us, loved and cherished as priceless models of entertainment that engages as they enrich, one priceless line from one of her early interviews, resonates. I think it was with Vir Sanghvi. It reminded me so much of what the legendary Hollywood Director, Sydney Pollack, articulated so succinctly about the art of acting. He said “Acting has nothing to do with intellectuality. An actor doesn’t need to understand in a conventional way what he’s doing. He has to just do it. It’s critical to make a distinction between a performance that produces behaviour and one that offers intellectual understanding. All effective acting comes from wanting something. It’s what you want that makes you do it, not what you think!”

RIP Chandni. Thanks for the ‘Lamhes’ spent with you … Now go, Hawa-Hawai to the lucky ones in the packed halls above …

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