Why is Sridevi India’s First Female Megastar?
Digital Magazine: Behindwoods
Date: 13th August 2021
13th August 2021 marks the 58th birth anniversary of India’s greatest actress and first female megastar- Sridevi Kapoor. It has been three years since her sudden demise which had left India and her followers around the world in a state of deep shock. Her fans continue to celebrate her countless sung and unsung films again and again to remember her one more time, to watch her brilliance when she walked across Indian cinema like a colossal.
Christened as Ayyapan Sridevi, she was born in the Nehruvian era in 1963 to a junior actress and background dancer Rajeshwari Ayyapan and a practicing advocate Ayyapan in Madras. They named her after Goddess Lakshmi who is the principal Indian deity of wealth, power, and prosperity. Much to her parent’s delight, toddler Sridevi was an obedient child who would always do as directed. One particular day her mother noticed that baby Sridevi had developed a special talent of mimicking anyone who came to meet her parents and precisely reproduce their tone, tenor, expressions, and style after they had left!
Rajeshwari’s ambition took birth to introduce her expressive and beautiful daughter to the world of cinema. Madras which was the hub of South Indian films back then attracted talent from all the four southern states to its flourishing film studios. After a couple of false starts, it was here that Sridevi got her first break into films as a child artist in 1969, when she worked with iconic actors like M.G. Ramachandran, J. Jayalalithaa and Sowcar Janaki. Her act as Lord Murugan in the Tamil devotional film Thunaivan (1969) catapulted her as a famous child actress at the age of six years when producers from Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada languages began to queue up for her dates. A choc-a-block call sheet defined her early films Nam Naadu (1969) in Tamil, Maa Nana Nirdoshi (1970), Na Thammudu (1971) in Telugu, Poompata (1971) in Malayalam, Bhakta Kumbara (1974) in Kannada. Curiously Sridevi debuted in Hindi as a child artist in the titular role as Rani in the film Rani Mera Naam (1971). Her last film as a child actress was the mythological drama Yashoda Krishna (1975) where she played the titular role as Lord Krishna.
In the lull period when she was considered neither a child nor an adult, Sridevi was offered fewer roles and the transition to a full-fledged heroine proved to be difficult. Until one day, she was offered the role of a blind girl in the Telugu film Anuragaalu (1975). The film’s failure slowed down her ambition to become a leading lady in films. After a few more false starts, the turning point in her career came when prolific film director K. Balachander offered her a role in Moondru Mudichu (1976) opposite a rising star Kamal Hassan and a relative newcomer Rajinikanth. Sridevi presented her range as an actress in this black and white film with her superlative performance. The blockbuster director of Telugu films Raghavendra Rao took her under his wings and cast Sridevi in Padaharella Vayasu (1978) which was the remake of Sridevi’s super hit Tamil film 16 Vayathinile (1977) and relaunched her career in Telugu. With these three films in her resume, Sridevi never had to struggle again for a role, film, banner, or director. Everyone clamored for Sridevi as they came flocking to sign her for their next films. She paired up with actors N.T. Rama Rao and Akkineni Nageswara Rao in Telugu and Kamal Hassan and Rajnikant in Tamil and to churn mega-blockbusters and became a rage with the audiences.
In the eighties, she shifted gears and paired with younger heroes like Shobhan Babu and Krishna to delight the masses with family entertainers. Sridevi’s stardom in south Indian films was not only because of her exceptional beauty but she captured the love of the audiences with riveting performances in films like Johnny (1980), Karthika Deepam (1979), Premabhishekam (1981), Meendum Kokila (1981), Devata (1982) Moondaram Pirai (1982) and made her followers crazy. She tried her luck in Hindi but failed with her debut film Solvan Sawan (1979). The urge and ambition to succeed in Hindi became a latent need at the back of her mind.
Director Raghavendra Rao offered to try her luck once again in Hindi with an established hero Jeetendra in the upcoming film Himmatwala (1983). Though nervous and sceptical, Sridevi took the plunge and the rest as they say is history. The blockbuster success of the film and song “Nainon Mein Sapna” catapulted Sridevi to the precipice of stardom. Such was the impact of her success that Filmfare magazine called her “No 1 heroine” of Hindi with just one film. Hindi cinema was undergoing a phase of art-house parallel films with powerful portrayals of women essayed by celebrated actresses Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. The hurricane called Sridevi came and did what no other South Indian actress had done before. She changed the idiom of the Hindi film heroine and set the cash registers ringing commanding the industry in her famous shy and introverted tone. Sridevi unleashed a “hit machine” with her pairing with Jeetendra for the next four years, reigning the box office as the queen.
Sridevi was unhappy with the commercial roles she was being offered though she was thrilled with their box office reports. She desired meaty characters as she played in Tamil and Telugu cinema to prove herself in Hindi. Lady luck smiled when an unknown director Harmesh Malhotra offered her his snake film Nagina (1986). Sridevi used a simple story of revenge of a shape-shifting snake into the second biggest hit of the year with her towering act. With Nagina, her cinematic kingdom now extended to the far corners of the North of India apart from her complete hold over South India. Hardly had the dust settled, she served India with her bravura act in Mr. India where she charmed the audience with her act as Charlie Chaplin, as a seductress in the “I Love You” song, as the famous “Hawa Hawai” with a crown. The Sridevi juggernaut did not stop when she treated India with two blockbusters with Chandni and her double role in Chaalbaaz in 1989. She continued churning blockbusters in Telugu with Aakahri Poratam (1988), Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari (1990), and Kshana Kshanam (1991). This was unprecedented in Indian cinema when Sridevi had complete dominance over the Hindi and Telugu film industries from upto 1991. No male or female actor had achieved this feat before or since that. She had accomplished every actor’s dream of ruling India but Sridevi was the only actor to have conquered the nation. Soon the industry tagged her as the “first female superstar of Indian cinema”.
Sridevi was exceptional because the 1990s was her fourth decade in films and she continued to delight India with her incredible performances in Lamhe (1991), Khuda Gawah (1992), Govinda Govinda (1993), Gumrah (1993), Laadla (1994), and Judaai (1997). She took a pause and got married to famous film producer Boney Kapoor in 1996 and gave birth to Janhvi Kapoor in March 1997 and Khushi Kapoor in November 2000. For fifteen years, Sridevi traveled with Boney Kapoor for his shooting schedules in India and abroad and provided care to her children during their formative years as a perfect mother. In 2004, she delved into television with Sahara TV’s Malini Iyer and walked the ramp for the first time for a fashion show in 2009. In 2012, Sridevi awed audiences at a global stage with English Vinglish in which she played the role of Shashi who feels humiliated for not knowing English and travels to USA to do a secret crash course. With the success of English Vinglish she broke another glass ceiling of the biggest ever comeback of an actress in Indian cinema. She was now being hailed as a “megastar”. Madhuri Dixit introduced her as a “megastar amongst the superstars” in the dance show ‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa’. She was 49 years old tasting stardom again and had only 6 more years to live.
With the support of her husband & children, Sridevi was back in the game with films Puli (2015) and Mom (2017), brand endorsements, fashion weeks, television shows, inaugurations, and red carpets. The fans and followers of the great Sridevi were hungry for more of her but God intervened and recalled her to heaven on 24th February 2018 when she was in Dubai. The country plunged into mourning with special tributes starting from the President of India to the helpless common man. Her funeral attached large crowds from across the world who wanted a glimpse of their favorite actress for one last time. The awards and recognition she received during and after her lifetime were nothing before the love of the people had for her.
The adulation of the country was her biggest award for there will never be another Sridevi, a megastar whom the audiences adored like a member of their own family.