India’s first female superstar, Sridevi passed away on 24 February in Dubai. The sudden and untimely death of the 54-year-old actress has sent shockwaves across the entire film industry and left her many fans distraught. Now, only days after her death, as we revisit her classics—films like Sadma (1983), Mr India (1987) and Chandni (1989) to name a few—we are given a glimpse of her glorious five-decade-long career in the film industry, which set an example of how artisitc honesty and versatility, can be made to chime with commercial success.
Bollywood’s darling Sri, as she was endearingly called by her co-actors and friends from the film industry, made her debut as a child actor, with a Tamil film Kandhan Karunai (1967) at the age of four. The actress made her presence felt in Tamil and Malayalam cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with films like Nam Naadu (1969), Prarthanai (1970), Babu (1971), Poompatta (1971), Badi Panthulu (1972) and others. The actress also received the Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Artist for her role in the Malayalam film Poombatta in the 1970s, which was only the first among the many awards that she won later in her acting career.
Sridevi debuted as a child artiste in the Hindi film industry with Rani Mera Naam in 1972. She played her first big role at age 13 in the Tamil film Moondru Mudichu (1976). However, her break as an adult in the Telugu industry came with Padaharella Vayasu, in 1978. With 300 movies to her credit across five languages, the actress has done the maximum number of films in Telugu. Sridevi has acted in 83 Telugu movies and has worked with several leading stars from Tollywood.
After Solva Sawan’s (a remake of her own hit film 16 Vayathinile ) not-so-impressive performance at the box office, Sridevi took Hindi film cinema by storm with Himmatwala (1983) opposite Jeetendra. Her film Sadma (a remake of the Tamil film Moondram Pirai), in the same year with Kamal Hassan remains, to date, one of her most critically acclaimed films and has even acquired a cult status.
Sridevi’s hit pairing with Jeetendra was seen in many blockbusters later. The duo acted in films like Jaani Dost (1983), Justice Chaudhry (1983), Tohfa (1984) and Sone Pe Suhaaga (1988) among others. It wasn’t only her acting prowess, but her impeccable dancing skills and her personal charisma that added to her numero-uno female star status during the ’80s.
At a time when action alone drew audiences to the theatres, Sridevi dared to be a thespian and not just a heroine. With the commercial success of films like Nagina (1986) and Chaalbaaz (1989), which was a remake of Hema Malini’s Seeta aur Geeta, she challenged the patriarchy in the Hindi film industry. By portraying strong characters and bringing on the screen a spectrum of emotions—from child-like innocence in Sadma, to exhuberant comedy in Chaalbaaz and Mr India, to playing a mother in Mom—the actress made a deep connect with the audience.
The Padma Shri awardee (in 2013) is also one of the few actresses who have worked with several generations of Bollywood heroes. From jumping jack Jeetendra and angry young man Amitabh Bachchan, to Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, she has shared screen space with the biggest stars of Indian cinema.
Apart from her very obvious acting skills, Sridevi will be remembered for having brought a new professionalism and work ethic to the film industry.
While Sridevi dominated the Hindi film industry through most of the 1980s, her career-defining act came with Mr India (1987) alongside Anil Kapoor. Her successful pairing with this reel-life hero and real-life brother-in-law broke box-office records. The two were seen together on the silver screen in other massive commercial successes like Laadla (1994) and Judaai (1997).
Despite being a very private person in her real life, Sridevi had what her co-stars—like Jaya Prada, Jeetendra and others—have often called a “magical” on-screen
Chandni in 1989 made the versatile actress Yash Chopra’s go-to heroine. Even today, the actress is fondly remembered as the “Chandni” of the film industry—such was her spellbinding presence on the big screen.
After her marriage, Sridevi took a long break from films and made a comeback with Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish in 2012. The actress was seen playing the role of a homemaker who sets out to learn English for her family.
She was last seen in husband Boney Kapoor’s Mom (2017), where she played the role of a mother who could go to any extent to avenge the murder of her daughter. The film received a lot of critical acclaim, and her fans were hoping that this would inaugurate a new phase of Sridevi’s acting career. But all those hopes came to nothing.