Me and Sridevi: Confessions of a Cinephile

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

By Murtaza Ali Khan
Sridevi in Yash Chopra's Lamhe
Sridevi in Yash Chopra's Lamhe
Today is a sad sad day and I write this with a heavy heart. One of my all time favorites Sridevi is no more. She passed away last night in Dubai at the age of 54 after suffering a massive heart attack. As a kid growing up in the ‘90s, Sridevi was a huge influence. She wasn’t just an actress but someone a kid could closely relate to. Mr. India was probably the first movie of hers that I remember watching in the early ‘90s on Doordarshan. For all those naughty little orphaned kids in the movie, her character was no less than a caring sister. Perhaps, at the time, I too saw her as an elder sister that I didn’t have. 

Subsequently, I also watched her other films like Chandni, ChaalBaaz, and Khuda Gawah. And my fascination for her grew more and more with each movie of hers that I watched. She became what can be described as a childhood crush. I would often croon her songs, especially the ones from Mr. India and Khuda Gawah. Later, I learnt about her part in Nagina and for the first time in my life I feared her. Seeing her in the role of a shape shifting serpent, I got so petrified that I left the movie half way and could only complete the viewing many years later. One film of hers that particularly left a mark on me as a kid was Lamhe. It was a film that I couldn’t fathom much except for some awesome dance sequences featuring Sridevi, shot in exotic locations. And, of course, for Anil Kapoor sans his famous mustache!
Sridevi in Nagina
Sridevi in Nagina
I revisited Lamhe several years later and finally fathomed its cinematic brilliance. Today, Lamhe is regarded as Yash Chopra’s magnum opus but at the time it was seen as the biggest failure of the legendary filmmaker’s illustrious career. What make Lamhe special are of course its screenplay, direction, music, and cinematography. But, what makes it unforgettable is Sridevi’s riveting performance. “Chudiyan Khanak Gayeen” is arguably one of the most beautifully choreographed songs in the history of Indian cinema. And it is not just beautiful but also oozes with an air of romance that just cannot be described in words. It can only be felt. Every time I watch the song on YouTube, my eyes get wet seeing the way a smitten Anil Kapoor looks at Sridevi’s enchanting beauty in the film. Having seen Lamhe countless number of times, I am fully aware that the sight is tragic. That the young man is just another hopeless romantic dreaming for something so elusive that he will never be able to possess—a muse. And the very thought fills my eyes with tears.

All these years, Sridevi, for the most of us, has been like that muse. For years in the 90s, as a child, I hated when any actress other than Sridevi won an acting accolade. I consider myself really fortunate to have seen her from up-close recently at the 2017 IFFI. A journalist friend of mine asked her, “What does it feel to still be regarded as India’s best actress after all these years?” She smiled gently before thanking him with all her humility. Today, on learning about the sad news of her untimely demise the time stopped for me. But, as they say, great personalities don't die, for they become immortal.

P.S. Sridevi started acting at the age of 4 years, and, in a career spanning five decades, she delivered numerous unforgettable performances. Some of Sridevi's must-watch movies include Sadma, Laadla, Himmatwala, Tohfa, Judaai, Army, English Vinglish, Mom, etc. Her work in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada films has also been noteworthy. More than a dozen films of hers are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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