An exlcusive excerpt from a new biography on Sridevi
She overshadowed the hero and had more screen time than them
The jubilee success of Mr. India consolidated Sridevi’s conquest of the male bastion that Bollywood was. She had not only overshadowed the hero but her greater screen time in the film was a radical win in that decade when most heroines were only incidental to the plot. The November issue of Showtime with the actress on its cover now asked, ‘Is Sridevi a Hero?’ The media anointed her with the sobriquet, Female Bachchan.
Sridevi plays a reporter, Seema, in Mr India
The label soon acquired a whole new meaning when Sridevi now decided to stop working with Amitabh. In a phase where every heroine was salivating to be Bachchan’s leading lady, Sridevi’s decision was open mutiny. In an interview, the actress gave her reason why: ‘What’s there for any artiste to do in a film starring Amit-ji? He does everything himself.’ Bachchan would have to woo her with a truckload of flowers to get her to star opposite him in Khuda Gawah! And when asked about Mr Right by Lens Eye, the actress retorted ‘It’s when you are insecure that you look for a male to come to your rescue. But because of what I am today, I can go to the rescue of millions of men in this country.’
Sridevi in Chandni
The legendary Yash Chopra had been reeling under flops for a while now. With heroes like Amitabh (Silsila), Anil and Rishi (Vijay) having failed him, he now turned to the heroine. In Sridevi’s stardom alone he found the courage to make one last bid for success. The man who had always penned hero-centric stories, now created his first heroine-oriented film. Hopeful that it would end his dark phase, he named it Chandni. Sridevi mania engulfed the box office again as Chandni emerged as one of the biggest blockbusters of 1989, ending Yash Chopra’s lean phase. The actress now emerged as the Mai of Bollywood.
Sridevi in Chaalbaaz
Pankuj Parashar who would go on to direct her in Chaalbaaz shares: ‘Everyone had started addressing her as Mai. I was once having lunch with Vinod Khanna, Amrish Puri and Shatrughan Sinha on a film set, when all three suddenly stood up with respect. I heard voices saying, “Mai aa gayi”, and saw Sri entering the room. That was the level of her stardom.’ That she had reduced Sunny Deol and Rajinikanth, a top north Indian hero and a top south Indian hero, to mere props in Chaalbaaz, perfectly symbolized Sridevi’s dominance over the entire nation. In a deeply misogynist industry, she had become more powerful than her male counterparts. Soon, Filmfare ran a special cover story celebrating the megastar. A smiling Sridevi in baby pink appeared on its cover with the tagline—‘The Greatest!’. After classics like Chandni and Lamhe, Yash Chopra again offered Sridevi his next one titled Darr but the actress refused the film. Her reason soon appeared on the cover of a film magazine explaining ‘I would have done Darr only if I was offered Shah Rukh Khan’s role!’ No wonder Karan Johar gushes: ‘For me, the two greatest female forces in cinema will always be Meryl Streep and Sridevi. No book, no award and nothing said on any platform about Sridevi can ever truly encompass her sheer magnitude.’
Excerpted with the permission of author Satyarth Nayak. Get a copy here.
Image courtesy: Chandni still via Yash Raj Films; Mr India still, Boney Kapoor; Khuda Gawah still, Manoj Desai