Sridevi Kapoor Image Credit: AFP

Her expressive eyes and mischievous smile lit up cinema screens, making Sridevi Bollywood’s first female superstar.

Sridevi’s sudden death at the age of 54 in Dubai due to cardiac arrest has left family and fans in shock and grief.

The actress, wife of producer Boney Kapoor, died late on Saturday night due to cardiac arrest in Dubai, where she had gone along with her family to attend her nephew Mohit Marwah’s wedding.

In an impressive career spanning five decades, the actress ruled the commercial cinema space in the ‘80s and ‘90s like no heroine had done before.

In an industry dominated by male superstars, Sridevi reversed the trend by her sheer acting prowess. Her name, most of the time, was a guarantee enough for a film’s success.

An extremely shy person in real life, Sridevi came alive in front of the cameras, playing a variety of roles. Such was her popularity that her style and dance moves would be copied by her fans country over. She was ‘Miss Hawa Hawaaii’ and ‘Chandni’ for them.

Child star

Born Shree Amma Yanger Ayappan, Sridevi started acting at the age of four and made her debut with MA Thirumugham’s Thunaivan. She continued acting in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films but it was her career in Bollywood that made her a household name in the country.

Sridevi made her screen debut at the age of four in ‘Thunaivan.

She made her Bollywood debut as a child artist in 1975 hit Julie but continued ruling the South Indian film industry where she established herself as a leading heroine with films such as 16 Vayathinile, Sigappu Rojakkal, Meendum Kokila and Moondram Pirai.

In Bollywood, she made her debut in 1978 as a lead actor in Solva Sawan.

She gained commercial success with the 1983 film Himmatwala opposite Jeetendra, which also established her as one of the best dancers in cinema. She was grace-personified dressed as an apsara (a celestial beauty in Hindu mythology) performing on the hit track Nainon Mein Sapna.

Turning point

The year 1983 also saw Sridevi give stellar performances in both critically acclaimed and box-office hits such as Sadma, where she played the role of a woman who loses her memory.

Both she and actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan played the roles in the Hindi remake of their 1982 Tamil movie, Moondram Pirai. The climax of the heart-wrenching movie was deemed as poetic as the entire plot, with the song Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le [Life, come give me a hug] as an ode to the philosophy of uncertainty in life.

Sridevi followed it up with a number of commercial hits such as Mawaali, Tohfa, Masterji and Nazrana.

In 1987 came Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India, a film that was produced by her future husband Boney Kapoor.

Sridevi gave a memorable performance as crime reporter Seema Sohni. She was one of the few female actors who left the audience spellbound with both her comic timing and sensuality.

How her undercover scribe transformed into Ms Hawa Hawaaii, thanks to her dancing skills in one of the popular songs, is one of the most memorable scenes of the film.

Owing to the cult status the song went on to achieve, the Kavita Krishnamurthy song has been recreated a number of times in films such as Shaitan and most recently in Vidya Balan’s Tumhari Sulu.

And so will Kaate Nahi Kat-te, an iconic sultry number that saw the actress romance an invisible man in a song revelling in a never-before-seen boldness and fantasy.

Quintessential actress

Filmmaker Yash Chopra cast her in the title role of Chandni in the 1989 film, another iconic film of her career. Such was her performance in the film that fans came to recognise her with the name of Chandni.

Impressed with her performance in the film, Chopra cast her again in Lamhe in a dual role, where she played the mother and the daughter.

It did not do well at the box office at that time but has come to be known one the best films of Sridevi, Chopra and Anil Kapoor’s careers. The film was said to be ahead of its times as it dealt with a woman falling for an older man who is in love with her dead mother.

Her other major box office hits of the era were Chaalbaaz, where she played the role of twins, Nagina, and Khuda Gawah opposite Amitabh Bachchan.

Her pairing with Anil Kapoor, her Mr India co-star and brother-in-law, was particularly successful and she would work with him again in Laadla and Judaai.

After Judaai, Sridevi took a break from acting to focus on her marriage with Boney Kapoor. She had two daughters — Janhvi and Khushi — with Kapoor.

The actor made a successful comeback to cinema 15 years later with Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, playing a housewife who learns English after feeling left out in her family.

She also had a starring role in Tamil film Puli and followed English Vinglish with another successful outing in Mom, which also featured Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshaye Khanna.

Sridevi was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, in 2013.

The actor’s elder daughter Janhvi is on the cusp of her own cinematic journey with Dhadak, a remake of the Marathi blockbuster Sairat. Unfortunately, Sridevi will not be there to witness it.

Bollywood mourns an icon

From southern movie stars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, veterans like Anupam Kher, Hema Malini and Madhuri Dixit-Nene, celebrities are in disbelief of Sridevi’s demise at the age of 54.

“I’m shocked and very disturbed. I’ve lost a dear friend and the industry has lost a true legend. My heart goes out to her family and friends. I feel the pain with them. Sridevi, you will be missed,” tweeted Rajinikanth, who featured with her in ChaalBaaz.

Kamal Haasan, her co-star from Sadma — one of her most evocative performances — said: “Have witnessed Sridevi’s life from an adolescent teenager to the magnificent lady she became. Her stardom was well deserved. Many happy moments with her flash through my mind including the last time I met her. Sadma’s lullaby haunts me now. We’ll miss her.”

Actress-politician Hema Malini wrote: “Sridevi’s sudden passing away has left me in deep shock. Can’t imagine how such a bubbly person, a wonderful actor, is no more. She has left a void in the industry that cannot be filled. Boney is a good friend and I’ve seen their daughters grow up.”

Actor Anupam Kher, who worked with Sridevi in a multitude of films like Lamhe, ChaalBaaz and Karma, said: “Am I having a horrible dream. Sridevi no more? This is so so sad. And so so not fair. One of the most brilliant, elegant and talented actresses ever. The queen of Indian cinema. And a friend. Worked with her in so many movies. So many amazing memories.”

Her Chandni co-star Rishi Kapoor wrote: “Woken up to this tragic news. Absolute shock. Sad. Heartfelt condolences to Boney and their two daughters!”

Madhuri Dixit-Nene said, “The world has lost a very talented person who left behind a huge legacy in films”.