Sridevi was an inscrutable icon.
So naturally, the prospect of interviewing her over the phone to speak about her thriller Mom in mid-June was a daunting prospect. She was a woman of few words.
Don’t get me wrong here, it wasn’t because her life was uneventful or that her career spanning over five decades wasn’t smattered with milestones. Far from it. At the time of this interview conducted last year, the beloved Indian actress was about to turn 300-films-old and her trophy cabinet was heaving with awards.
I remember thinking that interviewing Sridevi was tougher than having a root canal treatment. But that was her charm. She was famously media-shy, a sharp contrast to her commanding on-screen presence.
And unlike the slick media-trained millennial actors who can walk the talk, the 54-year-old Sridevi wasn’t someone to blow her own trumpet. She wore her fame like a cape on her shoulders — with an effortless ease — and had this aura of simplicity about her. The extraordinary actress, who has been in films since the age of four, spoke hesitantly and haltingly.
“I am not in a hurry to do films. I just don’t want to do films for the sake of it. I am busy with my kids and I have lots to do in my life. So, if at all I am doing a film, it has to be worth leaving my kids, my husband and my home. I should be convinced that it’s worth my time,” said Sridevi during that interview.
Mom, a tale about a mother who avenges the brutal gang rape of her step daughter by murdering the predators, turned out to be the project that she thought was worth extricating herself from her teenage daughters — Janhvi and Khushi — who looked they were being sculpted for a career in films.
Just like extraordinary talents such as Aamir Khan or Mohanlal, Sridevi too didn’t seem to dwell on her superlative acting skills or analyse her own greatness. Prod her to talk herself up and she would laugh nervously.
“I play roles now that suit my age,” said Sridevi. In just eight words, she managed to distil her legendary career spanning over five decades and dozens of blockbusters.
“But honestly, I never look back… I feel odd watching myself in movies or on TV, so I never watch. So I just look forward. So right now, Mom is all I have on my mind right now. I feel this is my first film, my first release of my career,” she said.
But there was one topic that made her drop her guard. The subject of motherhood. The way she spoke about her daughters made you feel that just like every unsure parent out there — a potent mix of vulnerability, resilience and strength.
“I am a simple, ordinary mother. I am after their lives all the time, making their lives miserable saying eat, eat, eat and sleep, sleep, sleep... But there’s one dialogue which says our job as a parent is not to make them understand, but to understand them. This is very poignant and important, that it is not necessary to give them lectures. I apply that to my life too,” said Sridevi.
A few days before this interview, her producer-husband Boney Kapoor, in a sit-down interview in Dubai, described his wife as the perfect “hands-on mother”.
“She’s involved in every aspect of taking care of them. She doesn’t mind going to the fish market to get Janhvi and Khushi to get their favourite seafood,” he said. According to him, Sridevi’s biggest asset was her ability to play to her strengths.
“She’s smart enough that she is not dwelling in her past roles and isn’t in the process of redoing those very roles that made her popular in the past,” he said.
Kapoor was spot-on. While Bollywood is notorious for actors clinging to youthful roles, the age-defying icon, who was rumoured to be surgery-happy, would never make that mistake on screen.
“I never look back,” she said.
These words seem oddly prophetic as the Indian movie-mad public mourn the loss of the legendary actress.