At first I thought it was fake news when it popped up on my mobile screen just as I was going to bed around 1am Sunday. Sridevi is dead, the news said. I prayed it wasn’t true. But before long, I realised it was no rumour. Sridevi had indeed died. The rest of the night was spent sleepless as I tracked the news from various sources.
Sridevi was my first crush since I saw her in ‘Padaharela Vayasu’ (Sixteen Year Old) in Telugu when I was doing my Plus 2. I was smitten by her cherubic looks and this admiration grew over the years.
Soon after the success of that movie, I had written a letter to her Madras address in Tamil Nadu requesting her to send me her photograph. The snail mail being literally so then, I thought perhaps she would never receive it anytime soon and even if she did, she would trash it. But surprise! Almost two months later, I received an envelope with her 4x6 black and white photograph. She looked much younger than 16 in that picture. Now I realise her looks always belied her age. That sepia print is among my prized possessions.
I may have seen almost all her movies in Telugu and Hindi. Irrespective of the heroes she starred with, all her movies were commercially successful and some were even critically acclaimed, winning her several awards. If there was a movie starring Sridevi, it was always I who reviewed it for the paper. It was my privilege and my colleagues respected that.
The first time I saw her up close was in 1986 during the inaugural function of the International Film Festival of India at Telugu Lalitha Kala Thoranam. Legendary actor N T Rama Rao was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh then. Those were the days when I was dabbling with my new SLR and I got an opportunity to walk right up to the front and capture Sridevi in my camera. That’s another prized possession in my photo album.
Later, as a journalist in Hyderabad for an English daily, I also did studio hopping covering shootings, film openings, audio releases and interviews. I twice got a chance to see Sridevi on the sets. Once was in 1988 during the making of ‘Waqt Ki Awaz’ at Annapurna Studios in Hyderabad with Hindi film actor Mithun Chakraborty, who the grapevine said she was secretly married to. I felt heart broken.
The second time I met her was in 1991 on the sets of ‘Kshana Kshanam’ with Telugu actor Venkatesh, also at Annapurna Studios. What I observed was that when not facing the camera, Sridevi kept to herself and when in front of it, presented an entirely different persona. She was an unmatched talent.
A single briefing by the director was enough for her to bring out the right emotions and she is perhaps one of the very few actresses who never wasted precious time and celluloid. While other artistes needed hours of rehearsals for dance movements, Sridevi did it with little help from the dance director or his/her assistant.
Sridevi is gone but she will live in my heart forever!