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The enduring legacy of Sridevi!

Date: 24th February 2022

Publication: Times of India

Kamala is a 56-year-old house help toiling in a multi-rise apartment in upscale Juhu in Mumbai. An ardent devotee of Sridevi, she stops by in awe whenever a Sridevi song or film is playing on her employer’s television. Today she halts in her heels to watch the famous song ‘Tu Mujhe Kabool’ from the magnum opus Khuda Gawah (1992) on the 55” inch LED screen with the same admiration when she watched that song for the first time 30 years ago in the Maratha Mandir cinema in Bombay Central. A smile and a sigh and she resume her daily chores.

Often dubbed as the greatest actress of Indian cinema by all standards, benchmarks, and yardsticks of commercial successes, power at the box office, histrionics, and geographical appeal, Sridevi Kapoor passed away on 24th February 2018 leaving millions of fans around the world in a shock of a lifetime. Her sudden demise reiterated the fickleness of life and that even the greatest human cannot be untouched by death. She served India through her art, talent, beauty, and exceptional entertainment. One of the greatest Indians to have ever lived, Sridevi was one of her kind personality who was known to be a one-woman industry at the peak of her career. Her command of the box office of the three biggest film industries, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu concurrently are unprecedented in Indian cinema. No male or female actor before or after Sridevi has been able to break the north-south divide cinematically. Her legend has formed a cult of ardent Sridevi followers in her memory who relive every moment of her cinematic and personal journey of over five decades.

Pallavi Gupta (30) who works in a national bank in Delhi scrolls her Twitter feed and glosses over a picture of Sridevi from the movie Lamhe (1991) on her phone. The double role enacted by Sridevi in the classic Lamhe remains a film that achieved excellence in cinema. The influence of the film was so widespread that Pallavi’s parents- the Guptas named her based on one of Sridevi’s twin characters, Pooja and Pallavi from the film. Her sister, Pooja Gupta (29), who lives in the United Kingdom is also named after Sridevi’s character from Lamhe.

Sridevi started her journey as a child artist in 1969 and became a popular child actress in five languages. Breaking the fabled curse of a child artist, she achieved her breakthrough in Tamil and Telugu cinema in performance-oriented and commercial blockbusters as a lead actress from 1975. She forayed into Hindi in 1979 with a dud but delivered the biggest blockbusters in a reattempt post-1982. When each year, Sridevi became more cinematically astute abled coupled with a towering personality and burgeoning popularity. Her power and command at the box office reduced male actors to a pittance in her films. Producers, directors, financiers, and the audience bowed before India’s first female superstar as she wielded her soft-spoken mannerisms and shrewd genius to dominate the film industry with her exceptional talent.

Abhishek Kumar (23) works in an agricultural MNC in Kolkata cannot forget the day when he knelt before his mother to ask for forgiveness for being rude to her for years. His change of heart was resultant of watching Sridevi in English Vinglish (2012) who played a middle-class woman Shashi who craves respect from her family. Shashi’s triumphs and tribulations of winning the respect of her young daughter and husband hit teenage audiences where it hurt the hardest. The film and Sridevi’s bravura performance encouraged several youngsters like Abhishek to apologize to their parents especially mothers for being disrespectful to them subconsciously.

If youngsters like Abhishek were impacted by Sridevi in the era of the smartphone, nonagenarian Ammaji Rao (91) who lives in Vishakhapatnam cannot forget the first time she witnessed Sridevi (whom she calls an angel) as a child artist in a Telugu film in 1971. The sparkle, the smile, and the eyes were enough for audiences like Ammaji to take notice of this expressive child, even predicting a life of greatness to the promising child star. She sometimes binges on Sridevi’s black and white films to refresh her memories of an angel who left too soon.

Sridevi continues to live in the hearts of countless Kamalas, Poojas, Pallavis, Abhisheks, and Ammajis across the world. An inspiration to women across India, South Asia, and around the globe, Sridevi has left a giant legacy through her unparallel filmography. Her performances and myriad characters remain a textbook for the future generation of actresses who can only attempt to take inspiration from her art in their quest for perfection.

 

Until then one can watch Sridevi films, again and again, to relive her presence with gratitude and love.