Sunday, February 25, 2018

ottings - slice of life - 197 ( An icon passes away . Sridevi (1963 - 2018))

Jottings - slice of life - 197 ( An icon passes away . Sridevi (1963 - 2018))
Sometimes it is better for a great artist to die relatively young. It is divinely ordained. Especially, in visual arts like cinema, when an actor has found abiding fame, unshakeable public opinion, and lighted the fantasies and entertained millions through their youthful presence and superior art, it would be tragic to watch them wither away in time, lose that youthful beauty, shrink into old age, slowly sidelined by patrons and directors and finally leave the stage when all is finished and nothing more is expected. On the contrary, when they die young, at the prime of their lives, having achieved so much in so little a time, with so many more promises to fulfill and dreams to weave, then such a death leaves an indelible mark in time, never to be erased. They are framed for posterity. Can we ever conceive of a Marilyn Monroe as anything other than the sultry, ethereal beauty we see in innumerable pictures? Never. Similarly, Sridevi, who passed away today, will forever be remembered as the vibrant, beautiful, supremely talented , multifaceted actor who straddled both south and north Indian film industry with an authority and presence difficult, it not impossible, to emulate in times to come. We will never know an aged sridevi. She will always be remembered as a beauty whose eyes glittered with naughtiness and innocence as she danced and acted her way into our hearts, and through the myriad roles she donned with competence and ease in wide range of films in a career spanning decades in modern Indian cinema.
For those of us from Southern India, Sridevi holds a very special place in our hearts. We have seen her as a child artist play the role of a recalcitrant son Muruga opposite legend Shivaji Ganesan in “Thiruvilaiadal” - the epic about the adventures of Lord Shiva. Even in that cameo role, dressed as a boy, her vibrant eyes expressed deep anger, poise and joy with consummate ease. Then, we watched her grow into young, slim and rustically beautiful girl with a slight flawed nose making her mark in path breaking movies directed by legendary K Balachander and Bharatiraja. She never looked back after that. She realized early she needed to be a pan-India actor, and that took her to Northern India, where actresses from South India were already making a great mark. It wasn’t easy to convince the crowd with her native accent, but what she lacked in language, she more than made up in performance. It was “Sadma”, a remake of the Tamil film that marked her as an actor of superior calibre. Alongside Kamalhasan, with whom she shared a wonderful chemistry, she played the role of a mentally unstable girl, who regains her memory, only to forget the man who aided her. It was a class act, and signaled the arrival of a complete artist in Indian cinema. Unlike Hollywood, Indian heroines have to straddle different parts within a Movie. They have to competent dancers gyrating to cacophonous tunes, project themselves as alluring, beautiful and sexy; act with conviction, and more importantly learn to play second fiddle to the Hero. Amidst all this, they have to strive to make a mark for themselves as individual actors. It is not easy task. Very few actors come equipped with so many talents, and if they did, the burn out rate is high. But Sridevi not only managed to keep herself at the top in a male dominated film industry, but did so for decades without waxing even a little. By and by, in the late eighties and nineties, movies started revolving around her. She became the focal point, and popular heroes vied for a spot with her. Around the same time, she was also physically at her prime and gorgeous best. Slim, voluptuous, with an face that exuded innocence, she was everyman’s fantasy come true. A look, a shake of her hip, a wag of a finger, a sensual glance would send a Man’s adrenaline shooting up. Directors learnt to use that charm well, along with her wide range of emotive capacities. She was equally at ease romping half clad with Jitendra around trees, and playing serious roles with under great directors. She was a born entertainer and artist. Yash Chopra’s “Chandni” was all about Sridevi in her various hues and colors. He lavished on her the choicest costumes, and sumptuous locations to shoot her for every conceivable angle and emotion. The result was a portrait of Sridevi that remains unmatched even today.
I can keep listing innumerable performances, but that is not the purpose of this short tribute. Suffice it to say, she had done it all. In the late nineties, when she realized that a younger generation of actors were taking stage, she gracefully quit acting, and settled down with Bonney Kapoor and their children. That was a difficult thing to do for someone who has always basked and blossomed under the glare of foot lights. We thought, she would come back in couple of years. But, No. She stayed away, until she felt she was competent to take on newer and more mature roles. English Vinglish, in 2012 signaled her return. What a great performance there. The old charm and acting prowess was still intact, and her expressive eyes could still convey myriad emotions. She made acting look so simple and straightforward.
I wrote this piece the moment I read about her sudden demise in Dubai, and as I reach the end of this personal tribute, a sense of sadness envelopes me. From the perspective of the art she so lovingly practiced, Sridevi’s place in history is assured and unassailable; but, her death is no doubt little premature. One wishes she could have lived bit longer and watched her daughter debut on screen. One wishes she could have played few more roles and stepped into other aspects of cinema. One wishes she could have done a million more things. But there is no end to what we wish. Life decides otherwise. Fortunately, for an artist of her calibre, there is no death. She is and will be reborn, recreated each time her vast body of work is examined and studied. Younger generation of actors will do well to learn from her the value of hard work, integrity, commitment and the elusive craft of acting different roles and how not to be stereotyped. Directors who have worked her speak about her extraordinary commitment to any project. During the making of Mr India, when she needed to dance seductively in poring rain clad in skin tight blue saree, she was running a high fever and shivering to the bone. Shekar Kapur, the director wished to postpone the shoot, but the lady said “No... Its all arranged, it needs to be done..”. The shoot was eight hour long, and all through it she was wet and ill; yet, when we see the song on screen, it entices, captivates and remains emblematic of the kind of female power she possessed.. Such is the nature of her talent, which now rests in eternity.
I think, it was James dean, the iconic Hollywood actor, who died young himself, who once said “Being a good actor isn't easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I'm done..”
It is fair to say, his observation is vindicated in Sridevi extraordinary life. She excelled in both spheres - as an actor, and as a person A difficult combination in the uneasy world of mainstream cinema.
God bless…
yours in mortality,

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