The news is bittersweet as her death is yet to sink in and also incredulous as it’s almost impossible to believe that this is the late screen legend’s first ever National Award. In a long and illustrious career spanning over four decades across three of India’s most popular cinemas – Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi – Sridevi featured in roles that have since become the gold standard for actors; she won a retinue of awards but the National Award always eluded her.
Her untimely death robbed us of one of our all-time greats but it has also given her fans a reason to relive her memories, the media a reason to look inwards about the way it reported her death and finally, the National Awards to make up for many lost opportunities
Having started her career as a child artist at the age of four, Sridevi went on to become one of the most popular young actors. In fact, her first major film award, the Kerala State Film Award, was bestowed upon her as a child artist for the Malayalam film Poompatta (1971). Her first-ever Filmfare Award for Best Actress was for the Tamil film Meendum Kokila (1982) where her character, Kokila — a housewife whose husband, Subramaniam (Kamal Haasan) falls in love with a film star, Deepa (Kamini) — has for long been considered to be one of the best onscreen portrayals of a Brahmin woman by many critics and film commentators.
Looking back both Meendum Kokila and Moondram Pirai (1982), which released the next year and was also remade in Hindi as Sadma (1983), these are two roles for which Sridevi more than deserved a National Award. A great modern tragedy, Moondram Pirai is nothing less than a master class in the art of filmmaking and features fine performances from both the leads that continues to be the yardstick by which most actors are gauged even today.
Most millenials would probably think that a film such as Lamhe (1991) where Sridevi the superstar, got a shot to ‘act’ after being a part of mostly nonsensical hits such as Himmatwala (1983), Jaani Dost (1983), Justice Chaudhry (1983), Mawaali (1983), Akalmand (1984), Tohfa (1984), Balidaan (1985), Aulad (1987), Dharm Adhikari (1986), Nagina (1986) or blockbusters such as Mr. India (1987) and Chaalbaaz (1989). But the truth remains that Sridevi was counted among the modern greats much before these films. The real tragedy was that when her co-stars in most of these films were hailed as box-office czars (Jeetendra, Rajnikanth, Anil Kapoor), or revered as great artists (Kamal Haasan) or both, she was mostly bequeathed with sobriquets such as ‘Thunder Thighs’.
The fate of the final film notwithstanding, Mom can very well be counted as one of Sridevi’s best roles. The avenging angel character has been done in the past – Mother India (1957), Ek Hasina Thi (2004), and thanks to Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy like Sympathy for Mr. Vengence (2002), Old Boy (2003) and Lady Vengence (2005) one is more than familiar with the imagery, but the manner in which Sridevi transformed a mother’s warmth into icy cold quest for revenge is a testimony to her aura both on and off screen.
One of the things that made Sridevi stand out was the ease with which she could slip into a mood and then almost seamlessly shift between emotions; Mom gave her a script to go deep within her conscious acting mind and it was after eons that she got the range that would do justice to her talent. The last time she got such a character was in Lamhe where her Pooja had to come to terms with the reality that the elderly man she loves and thinks that he reciprocates her feelings is indeed still in love with her dead mother whom she resembles.
Had the screenplay of Mom not been in awe of Sridevi’s off-screen persona (that of a ‘complete actor’) it had the potential to become a far greater cinematic experience. Despite its failings, Mom gave Sridevi many moments to suppress what her character feels but still be able to convey it all – something that she is peerless at – and this is exactly what made the whole thing worthwhile.
The philosopher and cultural critic George Santayana had noted that there was no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval and for us, Sridevi did just that – she made the interval a thing of joy. It’s a pity that we will never be able to see another towering Sridevi performance; but such is life.
Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 17:18 PM