Photo : sridevi
Bollywood, all of India, and the Indian diaspora (including the Indo-Guyanese diaspora) are in mourning over the sudden death of popular actress Sridevi who dominated the cinema screen during the late 1970s, 1980s and part of the 1990s. She literally had tens, if not hundreds, of millions of fans in India and globally including virtually the entire Indo-Caribbean diaspora. She was an idol among Indo-Caribbeans. As I pick up from media comments in India and conversations from Guyanese in America, and in my hotel in hotel and on the streets of Mumbai, fans are in disbelief and in shock that the legendary actress is no more. She died of cardiac actress while on a visit to Dubai to attend a wedding of her nephew at a young age of 54. If one looks at the latest video of her from an engagement on Saturday night, she looks like she is in her 30s.
I was at Ahmedabad (Gujarat, home state of Gandhi-ji) where I presented a paper on Indian cultural persistence in Guyana and the Caribbean at the Central University) at the airport waiting to board a flight to Mumbai (city of Bollywood) when I received a phone call from my sister in New York querying whether it is true that legendary Bollywood actress Sridevi had passed away. She, like myself and Indo-Guyanese, is a fan of Sridevi. Many Indo-Guyanese mothers named their daughter (including one of my nieces and my friends daughters in NYC) after Sridevi. My sister and other Guyanese had gotten the news from a radio station in NYC that the actress collapsed and died in Dubai. They got the news before I did in India because it happened in the middle of the night in Dubai when I was asleep. It was only when I landed in Mumbai early Sunday morning I received confirmation that the legendary actress is indeed no more. From the airport to my hotel in Juhu, a community of prominent Bollywood personalities with about the highest real estate value in all of India, sulking faces were glued to TV and radio as they learn of Sridevi’s death. The Sunday print media had not as yet carried the news of her death as it happened late Saturday night. Every TV and radio interrupted regular broadcasts to focus on the life of the actress; switching TV channels and they were all on Sridevi in this film crazed city of Mumbai. Coverage of Sridevi’s legendary performance continues late into Sunday evening. There was shock among people. Teary eyed people watch the news at the Marriott hotel. She was the talk among every Indian.
Bollywood personalities, politicians, and film fans paid tribute to the iconic actress on TV. It was the talk among people on the streets, on Juhu Beach, at markets and stores, and off course among staff and guests at the hotel. Sridevi’s husband Boney Kapoor has a home in Juhu. Sridevi has two step children who are actors including the popular Arjun Kapoor. Her body was expected to arrive in the evening in Mumbai International airport from Dubai. Thousands gathered at the airport to catch a glimpse of her casket. Tens of thousands were expected to gather in front of her home in Bandra, another community of Bollywood personalities. There were live feeds on Tv of the procession from the airport. There were many TV cameras and live satellite dishes mounted on vans at the airport. Her mortal remains will be consigned to flame on Monday with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, expected to pay their final respects.
Sridevi is not just any actress. She had a most illustrious acting career with beauty incomparable to any other personality. She was a staple on the screen for many of us who watched Bollywood films in the Indian diaspora.
She was known for her versatility and multi-lingual ability. She made her debut in Madrassi films before joining mainstream Bollywood. She became perhaps the most popular actress in Bollywood and in the southern film industries of Tollywood, Mollywood and Kollywood, all nicknamed after large Telugu, Malyalam, and Kerala languages respectively. Although a Madrassi, she is loved all over India by hundreds of millions including the Indian diaspora in Guyana and the US and among Indo-Caribbean people. She was an incredible actress. I reviewed her films for New York Indian community newspapers during the 1980s.
Sridevi is loved by audiences in the North (such as UP, Bihar, Delhi, etc.) and the South (Mumbai, Madras, Hyderabad, etc.). Anyone who watched Bollywood films from the late 1970s would have seen Sridevi. She was cast against the most popular male actors including Jeetendra, Amitabh, Dharmender, Mithun, Anil kapoor, etc. Shridevi had a most commanding presence in her films. Producers and Directors said they loved working with her. They did not have to give her much instructions on a scene. She knew exactly what to do. Repeated filming of a scene was not necessary. She normally got it right very quickly. She started acting at age 4 and had no schooling. By age 16. She was a hit. She was the most sought after actress in the 1980s before her marriage to a Bollywood film producer Boney Kapoor.
I had the opportunity to meet Sridevi during the 1980s in New York at a press conference for the India Day parade that would attract tens of thousands of Indo-Caribbeans. She was stunningly beautiful – one of the most beautiful women I ever met. In person, she had a very warm, pleasant personality. She smiled a lot. And yes, she knew she had fans in Guyana and the Caribbean though. She said she would have liked to visit the Caribbean to perform but never had the time. That dream was not fulfilled. She was always busy with acting and being a wife and a mother.
Her death has shocked the Indian film fraternity and politicians. Tributes poured in from collaborators and filmmakers to admirers of her acting and her work ethic. As one tribute noted, “Her beguiling eyes, scintillating screen presence and acting prowess made her one of the most sought-after artistes in the Hindi film industry”. She was also an excellent dancer of the classical and filmi types. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “he was deeply saddened by the untimely demise of Sridevi. She was a veteran of the film industry, whose long career included diverse roles and memorable performances. May her soul rest in peace”. She had “grace, guts, and glory”, said one fellow actor. Another said she “was an inspiration for so many young women and men. Long live her legacy”.
“She was a superstar, much admired’, wrote another. There were also tributes from the President of India, Chief Ministers, Ministers, Mayors and other actors including the great Amitabh and Jeetendra. Mayor Sadiq Khan of London also paid tribute to her.
She was one of the best actresses in the business. She could make a film a commercial success. She was a professional. For her acting talent, she was honored by the Indian Government with a coveted Padma Shree award given to a select few.
Shridevi will be missed on the screen by her fans in the Indo-Caribbean diaspora.