Sridevi: The chiffon-clad Indian Marilyn Monroe

It was only her who made sexual image a glamorous one, not even Zeenat Aman could do it, who mostly appealed to a western sensibility rather than an Indian one

Photo courtesy: YouTube
Photo courtesy: YouTube

Pragati Saxena

Remember how a million hearts fluttered when Marilyn Monroe's skirt lifted up in the air? The effect was the same when Sridevi made some suggestive dance moves or just blinked her big dove eyes with a childlike innocence.

When Sridevi joined the Hindi film industry, stalwarts like Rekha, Zeenat Aman, Rakhi, Parveen Babi already were rocking the glamour world. But, it was only she who drew adjectives like 'sex bomb’ or 'thunder thighs’ and eventually went on to become first woman superstar in the industry.

She knew the film industry like the back of her palm. She knew it well that it’s the man’s world through and through. She knew she must not only survive but also thrive in this world. She wasn't well educated, she did not belong to any reputed film family. One thing that she had or was made to realise that she had, was her charm as a woman.

She was buxom, dusky and a typical south Indian svelte. The Hindi film industry was being gradually drawn to slim and fair and sharp-featured women. Above all, she was taller than most of her male counter parts. But she won over all these oddities with one thing that the male fraternity could not resist was her sexuality and it verged on vulgarity in most of her films with Jeetendra, which were crude remakes of south Indian flicks. But that worked.

None could resist the obvious sensuousness dripping from the wide-eyed innocent beauty. And thus, she won the hearts of million viewers, beating men at their own game, playing by their own rules only, something, that Marilyn Monroe also did. She became the ‘first woman superstar’ as she was so named even though the only thing she succeeded in was glamourising women as ‘sex-objects’.

She was the one who made the chiffon-clad rain-drenched woman an iconic romantic image of Bollywood, an image we have not as yet gone beyond really. It was much later, when she was quite established that she went in for a nose job and fairness treatments. She had two very strong fears- fear of growing old and fear of losing her close ones.

She could have been a wonderful and serious actress, the glimpses of it could be seen now and then. ‘Mr India’ and ‘Sadma’ were quite an achievement. Her comic timing was wonderful. But who was interested? She sufficed being a sensuous heroine igniting million hearts. It was only her who made this sexual image a glamorous one, not even Zeenat Aman could do it, who mostly appealed to a western sensibility rather than an Indian one. But, Sridevi swayed the conservative, presumptuous Indian male who wanted a woman who was both traditional and modern. Her unapologetic sexuality on screen shocked them, but also came as a relief to them.

When she rejoined the industry after a long gap, things had changed significantly—she had become old, though not grown old and Hindi cinema had become more open, explorative and experimental. She had the chance to prove herself and she did in English Vinglish. No one could imagine that the thunder thighs of yore could so effortlessly slip into the role of a submissive Indian wife trying to regain her self-confidence and dignity. Then came Mom. It was now that we could really witness her acting prowess but unfortunately, she did not have time enough.

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Published: 26 Feb 2018, 2:53 PM