Sometimes, in death a person is put on a pedestal that in life bypassed her. Indian celluloid superstar Sridevi’s life-and-death panned out a bit like that. A habitually lurid, habitually hyperventilating media did everything to feed on her glamour and at the same time seemed to almost vengefully deglamourise her, wrench the draping of haute couture around her—pull her down from the pedestal sudden death had put her on. But in vain. In death, Sridevi achieved what anyone in her fraternity would have envied had it not been so tragic, so very untimely.
It was once famously said that Marilyn Monroe became an icon and Elizabeth Taylor remained a star, and the difference between the two was a mysterious tragic death. Sridevi’s was a demure family-bound life, even if with the usual filmland plot complications. Or else a Monroe-like tag would not sit too askew on her. For, the camera transformed Sree Amma Yanger Ayyappan the same way it did Norma Jeane Baker. From the Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films of her early career to when she became the ‘Hawa Hawai’ girl of Bollywood to her late comeback. Unfortunately, it took a death for us to fully acknowledge her talent—the ‘sex symbol’ tag seeming to have debarred it earlier.
In her own quiet way, she had broken the glass ceiling in a woefully male-dominated industry. As a ‘female lead’—as they would say in the old days—she could command an audience all by herself. Not as an adjunct of the male star. The child artiste whom childhood and education had bypassed could hold her own among the well-heeled in the industry.
The spontaneous outpouring, the mourning of the thousands who gathered at her funeral, and many more in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan and in other parts of South Asia, underscore her stature. However much the media tried to reduce her death to a circus, alighting with malignant glee on botox shots, bathtubs and wine glasses, Sridevi wrested the script back in her favour, writing a blockbuster requiem to her soul.