Sridevi She Was A Sheer Magic, She Is Forever
By Ali Peter John
I’ve stopped being surprised, but I’ve started growing baffled at the way people who know and don’t know are racing with time and ahead of time to come up with biographies on stars and other celebrities. Why was this phenomenon not so popular when we had bigger stars than the stars we have today, and who could have made much more better reading than the books that are being seen in all the leading book stores in all the leading cities of India, and I’m sure it is the same situation all over the world?
After attending the grand launch of Amit Khanna’s ambitious and voluminous book tracing the history of media and entertainment from the days of the Indus Valley civilization to modern times and the kind of attendance of celebrities it attracted, I almost took a vow while going down the wooden stairs of the age-old recording studio of Mehboob Studio, not to attend any more book launches. I had enough of all the same kind of functions, same kind of people and the same kind of speeches being made to mark these occasions.
But, hardly had my vow sunk in, that I heard about the launch of a biography on Sridevi.
I was thankful to the organisers for not inviting me because I was sure that I would not be able to make it even if I wanted to and I had my own reasons for not attending this book launch, because I couldn’t believe that an entire book could be written about a very private person who didn’t believe in words and mostly spoke in silences and smiles.
I couldn’t believe how a book could be written on this woman who was magic on screen, but was called a dumb doll in real life. I couldn’t imagine her talking so much that would go into the forming of a book even if others had to just put down all the words that she had used away from her scenes in her entire life.
I can give you some examples about how very little she used words, whether it was because she was not confident about her knowing any of the two languages, English and Hindi perfectly, and because she was especially conscious about speaking to the media and therefore tried her best to keep away from them, which was mostly taken as arrogance and pride, a price she had to pay for her not having a command over languages which made some of her contemporaries the stars and bigger stars they were.
The first time I had my experience with her and literally her fear of speaking in public was at the press conference called at the Tea Center near Churchgate station to promote her first Hindi film, “Solva Saal”, in which she had Amol Palekar as her hero.
She came dressed in a typical South Indian outfit and sat in a corner and did not utter a word for more than an hour and Amol and the director did all the talking, including talking for her.
She had done a very good job, but the film failed to make any impact and flopped miserably and she had to go back to Hyderabad where she gradually became the number one heroine of Telugu and other South Indian films.
She had found a mentor in director, K. Raghavendra Rao, who had a condition that all his producers to have his degree, B. Sc. attached to his name. He had taken it upon himself to make Sridevi a great star and saw his big chance when he first made the Telugu version of Himmatwala and then made it in Hindi with Jeetendra as her hero.
A group of journalists from Bombay were taken to Hyderabad to watch the shooting and cover it.
Sridevi refused to talk to them, till her mentor forced her to talk. She finally agreed to talk to this writer and asked her director and the PR man to circulate what I had written to all the others and firmly turned down all other requests for interviews.
The next day, she created another ruckus when she refused to do a shoot in the famous swimming costume scene for the film, for the media till her mentor again forced her because he said it was very essential for the publicity of Himmatwala and she reluctantly agreed.
That one still of Sridevi in the swimming costume created a sensation in every corner of the country, made Himmatwala a hit and made Sridevi an overnight superstar, but she refused to give any interviews.
She became the most wanted star in Hindi films. Her voice was first dubbed by her dubbing artist called Naaz and later by her idol, Rekha.
Gradually, she learnt how to mug her dialogues, but she never tried to learn Hindi, and forget Urdu.
Her co-star of several Telugu films, Akkineni Nageshwar Rao, had died in Hyderabad and I was asked to seek her reaction. I met her at the Mehboob Studio and all she had to say was, “Good, good.” And I did not know what to make of it.
My friend and the master filmmaker, Manoj Kumar, wanted to cast her in one of his films and asked me to talk to her. I again meet her at the Mehboob Studio and told her about Manoj Kumar and before I could say anything more, she said, “Who, who, Manoj Kumar who?” And I felt that there was no need to talk to her about Manoj Kumar any longer. I felt it was an insult to both Manoj Kumar and me. But, on second thoughts, I felt sorry for her. How could I expect a woman whose world was so very limited?
She faced her biggest problem when there was a very strong rumour about her marrying Mithun Chakraborty during the shooting of the well known director, K. Vishwanath’s “Jaag utha insaan”.
The press was hunting her and she did not know what to say and Mithun who was shooting with her was also stumped for words and tried his best to stop the rumours. But, nothing really happened, till Boney Kapoor came on the scene and rescued Sridevi.
Yash Chopra was the only director who understood her problem. He once asked me, “Why are people, especially the media interested in talking to her, when she doesn’t want to talk to them? She is an actress. Her job is to act and she does it do very well. She is better than the world’s best computer when it comes to acting. You have to just press a button in her to get the expression or the emotion you want and you get it in a split second. If you get it so easily, where is the need to talk to her? Apna kaam karwaado aur usko apne haal par chhod do, baaki tumko usse kya lena dena?”
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Tags: Bollywood, Bollywood News, Bollywood Updates, Television, Telly News, Sridevi