Shy? Sridevi? Not at all!

A portrait of Sridevi in 1990

The camera was her private mirror. She wasn’t shy, she lit up before it. Sridevi enjoyed herself while facing the camera and gave it her all

One has been hearing so much about Sridevi this last week that there’s nothing left to say. A difficult circumstance because what can one say that hasn’t been said before?

I’ll pick on one of the refrains one has heard a lot of, these past few days.

Sridevi was shy. This is the what one hears all the time from the press, from co-actors and everyone who worked with her.

Shy? Sridevi? I beg to differ. Pick up any song the lady lip synched, indeed don’t even do that. Let’s look at Kamal Haasan singing “surmai ankhiyon……” in Sadma. All that Sri is doing is responding to the very sweet number not singing it, mind you, and you can’t even spare a glance for Kamal Haasan; her antics are so arresting, so engaging that the audience is compelled to look at her in case one misses even one expression of the lady’s very mobile face.

Sridevi was an actor par excellence. She didn’t need to talk about her craft and she didn’t. She was uncomfortable with interviews so she tried to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. But really did she need to talk about acting? She was a walking film institute… untrained herself, yet in complete control of her tools, her face, her expressions, her body. She was acting what others were talking about and that was where the difference lay. The absolute finesse with which she could essay any role had nothing shy about it..If she didn’t answer questions with aplomb she was really saying ‘do I need to explain how I do it? Isn’t the fact that I do it, enough? Watch anything she has done, even the box office flops, she is a delight to watch.How can that be? What was she doing that others weren’t or couldn’t?

Sridevi was an actor par excellence. She didn’t need to talk about her craft and she didn’t. But really did she need to talk about acting? She was a walking film institute

Sridevi was born to act, she was born for the arc-lights and that was her life’s mission. She started facing the camera too early—at age 4 and she grew into an actress so that she couldn’t do anything else. Facing the camera was her life, this is what she was born to do and she was the happiest doing it. Away from the camera her personality dwindled into an ordinariness. Sridevi, the actress was a colourfu, vibrant personality; without the cameras she retreated into a tongue-tied shell.

Acting, like music, doesn’t need a language and when we imported Sri from the South industry she couldn’t speak either Hindi or English but that didn’t hamper her acting at all; all it did was to make her keep away from unnecessary talking and that remained with her all her life.

Not only the screen, watch Sridevi on the ramp, she is so comfortable doing the ramp walk that the younger models look absurdly overconfident or showing too much “attitude” while Sri doesn’t require any crutches, she’s comfortable in her skin being watched from such close range. SHY? SRIDEVI? Not at all.

The camera was her private mirror. She wasn’t shy, she lit up before it. She needed it like a fish needs water. When she started her family and took a sabbatical, she didn’t let go of her fitness regimes, she didn’t let her looks go, on the contrary she worked at being fit and looking gorgeous at all times. In her mind, she was an actress still and she proved it with English Vinglish and Mom. One felt intuitively that she was still an actress in waiting. Because, and this was what one saw on screen-the absolute pleasure—the unmitigated “fun” she got out of acting. She enjoyed herself while facing the camera and gave it her all. No one could make the comic faces, funny expressions, do silly sequences the way she did. And yet turn into a dignified royal when required. She moulded herself from a simple south Indian innocent to a sophisticated diva. But one always felt that, that too was an act she was putting up for the public. She was by her own admission a director’s actor and she delivered all the diverse roles they thought up for her. A Feroz Khan wanted her to look unimaginable sexy, Yash Chopra wanted a chiffon clad beauty, a Shekhar Kapur wanted a Charlie Chaplinesque comic, a Balu Mahendra wanted an ingénue. She was an unopened box from which she scooped out whatever was required. And her box of miracles was not half finished after 300 films in her kitty. And no one knew it better than she did. Only she knew she was under-utilised yet and had a lot to give.

Lately when she appealed to the press to not judge or compare daughter Jahnavi to her, only Sridevi herself knew how unfortunate that would be, because to compare anyone to Sridevi let alone her debuting daughter would be unfair. Sridevi was a one-of-a-kind-actress, a born one. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of her going. It’s a waste of great acting prowess which would continue to delight audiences given the chance. But God willed otherwise.

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