Sunday morning, I woke up to the news that veteran actress Sridevi had died of a cardiac arrest, at the age of 54. I’m still quite in shock about this; I remember having “liked” her Instagram photo with her daughter just the day before. Sridevi was considered India’s first superstar, and has achieved widespread commercial and critical acclaim. She started acting at the age of four, and her career spanned hundreds of films. She starred in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi movies. She was a versatile actress, and an exceptional dancer as well. And of course, not to mention the obvious, but she was gorgeous. Sridevi’s life was relatively uncontroversial, barring her affair and her subsequent wedding to producer Boney Kapoor. She stayed out of the spotlight for around a decade and a half, after her marriage. She made a huge comeback with English Vinglish, and was hailed as India’s Meryl Streep. She was awarded the India’s fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 2013 for her contributions to cinema. In her tribute, here are eight of her best performances.
1. English Vinglish (2012)
I start this list with English Vinglish, because it was the first movie of hers I was able to see as it released. English Vinglish was now-acclaimed director Gauri Shinde’s debut, and Sridevi’s big comeback. I believe it is my favourite Sridevi movie, mostly because the movie provides a good platform for Sridevi to show her acting prowess; rather than just a medium for people to talk about what a stunning beauty she is. Sridevi plays a Shashi Godbole, housewife who is mocked by her husband and daughter for her less-than-fluent English, and her conservative and mild demeanour. She goes to the United States for her niece’s wedding, and after a number of misadventures caused by her inability to communicate in English, she secretly joins a Communicative English class. She acts as a maternal figure to her fellow classmates, and remains conscientious in her endeavour to learn the language. Sridevi slips into Shashi’s skin effortlessly, and is endearing to watch. Sridevi plays a woman closer to her age here, but someone less glamorous, someone more ordinary, and she plays her to perfection. She absolutely nails the sensitivity, the beauty, and yes, the humour of the character. There are books and movies that are completely defined by a particular character, and this movie is completely defined by Shashi, and yes, by Sridevi. English Vinglish won high praise for both Sridevi and director Shinde.
2. Mr. India (1987)
If you’re Indian, you’ve definitely heard the phrase “Mogambo khush hua”. If you live under a rock and haven’t heard it yet, I must urge you to watch Mr. India. Mr. India is one of the greatest movies India has ever produced. Directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by the classic Salim-Javed duo, it is India’s most iconic superhero movie, and has gained the status of a cult classic over the years. It stars Anil Kapoor as Arun, a street musician who discovers that his father invented a device, a watch, that makes its wearer invisible. Of course, because it is a Bollywood movie at its heart, Arun must use his powers to save the country from the evil genius, Mogambo, played by veteran Amrish Puri. Sridevi stars as Seema, a smart and sassy reporter. Mr. India remains another one of Sridevi’s best performances because of the actor’s ability to seamlessly flit between expressions and emotions. Her performance in the iconic Hawa Hawaii was not only sultry, cementing her image as a typical heroine, but also filled with comedic moments that only went to show Sridevi’s range as an actress. On the other hand, she performs the more serious aspects of the role with the same flair; to have your performance be singularly remembered in a movie where Amrish Puri is at his villainous best is no mean feat indeed. You can truly appreciate Sridevi’s comedic knack when she dresses up as Charlie Chaplin to infiltrate a casino. Mr. India was a far cry from the usual movies of the ‘80s; it pushed the boundaries of science fiction in Indian film, and it needed a truly exceptional cast to make that happen.
3. Himmatwala (1983)
The ’75 superhit Julie may have introduced Sridevi to Bollywood, but Himmatwala shot Sridevi to superstardom. It also birthed the soon-to be famous Sridevi-Jeetendra duo, who went on to star in 15 more movies together. Sridevi’s role in Himmatwala isn’t unique or new; it is that of a token Bollywood heroine, but her energetic and excellent dance performances are indeed memorable. Himmatwala has its fair share of comedic moments, and Sridevi more than does justice to the role, but the movie itself is neither groundbreaking nor iconic. The movie, however, became one of the year’s biggest hits, and remains so to this day. The two takeaways from this movie are that Sridevi was capable of making any role her own, and that this was the origin of the now-famous Jeetendra-Sridevi duo.
4. Nagina (1986)
To put it plainly, Nagina is a bad movie. I quite hate it, myself. It is one of those movies where I find myself wondering why accomplished actors choose such ridiculous movies. However, this article isn’t about the quality of the movies, rather, it is about Sridevi’s famous performances. And well, this indeed is one. Sridevi, in this, plays an ‘ichchadhaari naagin’, i.e., a woman who can shape-shift into a snake at will. Rishi Kapoor stars opposite her as a rich businessman who falls in love with her and later marries her. Amrish Puri completes the trifecta as a villainous snake-charmer who wants to use Sridevi’s…er, superpowers for evil. Like any ‘80s movie dealing with a similar theme, there is, of course, some domestic violence. Her uninhibited, trance-like performance in the song Main Teri Dushman is slightly creepy, slightly sexy in a non-sexy way, and slightly silly. Yet, Sridevi manages to bring in some semblance of character to the dance, to the role. To do so, in the circumstance, especially given the lack of back-up dancers is indeed an achievement. And, to be fair to the movie was a blockbuster hit in ’86. But thank god she made Mr. India in ’87.
5. Chandni (1989)
Sridevi starred as the titular Chandni in Yash Chopra’s Chandni; she even sang the movie’s title song, Chandni OMeri Chandni. While I wouldn’t consider her an exceptional singer, she provides a sort of vivacity to the song. This movie is a classic Bollywood romance, complete with a love triangle (between Rishi Kapoor, Sridevi, and Vinod Khanna). Sridevi provides yet another incredible performance, transforming from a very much-in-love young woman to a wronged, yet wiser woman who tries to find stability and happiness with another man. As a woman later torn between the one who got away, and the one who found her, Sridevi makes her tears the audience’s with her performance in this movie.
6. ChaalBaaz (1989)
ChaalBaaz is yet another Bollywood classic, and Sridevi’s double role as the twins Anju and Manju won her widespread critical acclaim. At the cost of repetition, the polar opposite nature of the twins, and the ease with which Sridevi is able to portray them both only goes to show the range she has as an actor. A remake of fellow-Tamilian superstar Hema Malini’s Seeta aur Geeta, Sridevi’s turn as the outspoken Manju is many notches above Hema Malini’s. Sridevi seems to truly enjoy her role, especially as Manju, as she tortures her twin’s evil family and takes her love interest for a ride. She lives and breathes the characters, and the difference in their personalities is so stark, you have to see it to believe that a single actor has played both roles. She is enthralling, and completely overshadows Sunny Deol and Rajnikant, who play the love interests, as well as veterans like Anupam Kher and Shakti Kapoor, who play the antagonists. Her gum-chewing, strutting and subsequent dance to Na Jaane Kahaan se Aayi Hai remains one of the movie’s best moments. The dance is sexy, and at the same time an excellent showcase of Sridevi’s dancing prowess.
7. Lamhe (1991)
In 2013, during the Centenary of Indian Cinema, Lamhe made it to the Top 10 Romantic Movies of 100 Years list. Another instance of Sridevi’s double acting, this time as a mother and a daughter, Sridevi was praised for being able to simultaneously perform the role of an older woman spurring the affections of a younger man, as well as a younger woman in love with a much older man. Her performance as the daughter, naive and innocent who has to unwittingly fill the shoes of her mother won her critical acclaim. The movie itself became more of a hit abroad, with parts of the Indian audience disliking it for its bold theme. Director Yash Chopra considers Lamhe his favourite of all the movies he has made.
8. Sadma (1983)
If Himmatwala put Sridevi on the map as a superstar, Sadma won her widespread critical acclaim. In Sadma, Sridevi plays a young girl who regresses to a child-like state after suffering from amnesia due to an accident. Sadma is widely considered Sridevi’s best performance as an actress. She was praised for her ability to bring nuance and complexity to a character who is supposed to be a grown woman, but acts as a child instead. Sadma is an absolutely heart-breaking, gut-wrenching movie, and Sridevi is at the centre of it all. She stars with another incredible actor, Kamal Hassan, and for any actor or actress to match Kamal Hassan’s pace is a great feat indeed. Sridevi does so with ease. Unlike the other movies on this list, Sadma wasn’t a commercial hit, though it has gained the status of a cult classic over the years. Sadma was the remake of the Tamil film Moondram Pirai, which also starred Sridevi and Kamal Hassan.
Sridevi has played a number of other roles, all equally iconic. Movies like Khuda Gawah, Tofah, and Nazrana in Bollywood, as well as movies in other languages, which I have not seen. Sridevi was a mother, a wife and one of the most talented actresses India has ever produced. She was a fashion icon and an inspiration to many girls across the country. May her soul rest in peace.