The film industry has been a male dominated industry. Our heroes get more media attention or perks in their work and most films are male-centric. Now things are gradually changing, especially in the last five years. Women-centric films such as ‘The Dirty Picture’ (2011), ‘Kahaani’ (2012), ‘Queen’ (2014), ‘Mary Kom’ (2014), ‘Mardaani’ (2014) and ‘NH10’ (2015) have slowly been pushing filmmakers to focus on subjects around the female protagonists. But again, these stories are different from our regular commercial films and not all women-centric films have been successful at the box office. ‘Heroine’ (2012), ‘Gulaab Gang’ (2014), ‘Khoobsurat’ (2014), ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ (2014) and ‘Revolver Rani’ (2014) have met with mixed results. Nothing much has changed in our commercial films and the heroine is still a glamour commodity. There has been one and only one actress in Indian cinema, who got equal roles as her heroes in commercial films and it is none other than Sridevi. In her peak period, she had a double role in a film with Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Khuda Gawah’ (1992). This is enough to summarize her superstardom.
Sridevi started her career as child artiste in the devotional Tamil film ‘Thunaivan’ (1969) and did several films as a child artiste. She initially started her adult role with the Tamil film ‘Moondru Mudichu’ (1976). Post that, she did several regional films. Her Bollywood debut as a heroine was in ‘Solva Saawan’ (1979). But her big blockbuster was ‘Himmatwala’ (1983) with Jeetendra. She made a hit pairing with him and they are one of most successful pairs in Indian cinema with hits like ‘Mawaali’ (1983), ‘Justice Chaudhury’ (1983), ‘Tohfa’ (1984), ‘Ghar Sansar’ (1986), ‘Aulad’ (1987) and ‘Majaal’ (1987), among others. The dance numbers of Sridevi and Jeetendra were very popular. She was a combination of beauty, good actress, great dancer and best comic timing among the actresses of her era. Her comic scenes in her films were to watch for. She had a certain naughtiness and intelligence in those scenes. How can we forget the Charlie Chaplin scene in movie ‘Mr. India’ (1987)? It is one of most hilarious scenes in Indian cinema.
Sridevi had very long innings and has done lead roles both in Hindi and Regional cinema for many years. Her landmark roles would be ‘Sadma'(1983), ‘Himmatwala’ (1983), ‘Nagina’ (1986), ‘Mr. India’ (1987), ‘ChaalBaaz’ (1989), ‘Chandni’ (1989), ‘Lamhe’ (1991), ‘Khuda Gawah’ (1992), ‘Gumrah’ (1993), ‘Laadla’ (1994), ‘Judaai’ (1997) and ‘English Vinglish’ (2012). She had done variety of roles to show her versatility as an actress in a commercial film format. In most of her films, she has overshadowed the hero and they were Sridevi’s films from start to finish. Many top actors during her peak period were afraid to work with her. Her dancing was a phenomenon.
Dance numbers like “Hawa Hawai” (Sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy, music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and lyrics by Javed Akhtar) in ‘Mr. India’, “Na Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai” (Sung by Amit Kumar and Kavita Krishnamurthy, music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and lyrics by Anand Bakshi) from ‘ChaalBaaz’, “Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan Hain” (Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, music by Shiv-Hari and lyrics by Anand Bakshi) from ‘Chandni’, “Nainon Mein Sapna” (Sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, music by Bappi Lahiri and lyrics by Indeevar) from ‘Himmatwala’ and “Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera” (Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and lyrics by Anand Bakshi) from ‘Nagina’ were a rage. Some of the biggest and most popular songs of the 80s belonged to her.
Today’s actresses come with more a professional training but despite their lean bodies, contemporary style and PR machinery behind them, they can’t match the legendary Sridevi. The audience used to come to watch Sridevi in theatres and the hero of the film didn’t matter to them. She got more whistles and claps from the audience than the hero. Superstardom is all about this. She has won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for ‘ChaalBaaz’ and ‘Lamhe’ and has a number of nominations to her credit. ‘Nagina’ was the highest grossing film of 1986 and was completely women-centric.
After Sridevi, we had Madhuri Dixit coming close to that popularity but there has always been a debate about this in the media. She has always been referred as the second female superstar. Both of them were the only superstars in their generations. Anupam Kher recently tweeted that Madhuri Dixit was paid more than Salman Khan in ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’ (1994). This is the most dated news ever to be making the headlines. She was always getting paid more than her male contemporaries till 1996. It makes complete sense as she was a massive star in 1994 and even bigger than Salman Khan, who had a series of flops behind him. Madhuri’s name was even first in the opening credits but this small detail is trivial as she actually walked away with all the credit from an audience point of view. Madhuri Dixit was definitely a superstar but Sridevi was in a different league as her performances were more powerful than Madhuri. Both female superstars made films sell solely on their names, with the likes of ‘Beta’ (1992), ‘Khal Nayak’ (1993) and ‘Raja’ (1995) for Madhuri. It was a big achievement during that period.
Sridevi’s Tamil film ‘Puli’ is releasing on September 17, 2015 and today also, she commands more popularity than the younger actresses like Shruti Haasan and Hansika Motwani, who also star in the movie. Recently, the likes of Kangana Ranault may be rising as the star of women-centric films but Sridevi remains the most charming, memorable and versatile actress and the first and true female superstar of Bollywood.
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