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Sridevi was the box-office queen who could carry a film entirely on her shoulders, say producers and distributors

Distributors would vie with each other to acquire the rights of films starring Sridevi in the 80s, when she was known as the box-office empress and India’s first lady superstar

By Manishaa R

While she left an indelible impression on the minds of her audiences with each of her characters be it her first major Hindi box-office success, Himmatwala (1983), Nagina (1986) Chandni ((1989), Mr India (1987), Lamhe (1991) or Nagina, Sridevi acquired the reputation of Indian cinema’s first lady superstar for her sole ability to carry a film on her shoulders.

Sridevi’s pairing with Amitabh Bachchan for a double role in the 1992 film Khuda Gawah further endorsed her “first lady superstar” status when she became the only actress who played a double role in a movie with Bachchan, who ruled the box-office. The film was publicized as the pairing of India’s topmost actor Amitabh Bachchan with the number one sensation, Sridevi.  Producer and noted exhibitor, Manoj Desai who signed Sridevi for the double role in Khuda Gawah recalls how the film gave Sridevi a new distinction, “That was one of her best performances in the role of a mother and daughter, one of the best costume dramas. She was one of those actresses who matched Amitabh Bachchan for the role in every aspect-her height, her persona and her box-office status of a superstar. In fact, Khuda Gawah was the only film where the heroine got credit and footage in an Amitabh starrer in the role of a mother and daughter. No other heroine in an Amitabh starrer could boast of such a role,” Desai recalled.

Apparently it took Manoj Desai some time to get a nod from Sridevi, who had her own apprehensions about how her role would eventually shape up in a Bachchan starrer, “It took me sometime to convince her. I assured her that not a single dialogue from the script would be changed and asked her to go through the script in detail. She read the script and later gave a go-ahead,” Desai recalled, adding that Sridevi matched up to Bachchan’s great professionalism and charisma, “They shared a great working rapport during the making of the film more so because both were highly disciplined and professional. Like Mr Bachchan, she would arrive on the sets with all her homework done. Moreover it was the late director Mukul Anand, who struck a fine balance between the two super talents. It was a great experience even as he ensured that their characters were equally impactful on screen.”

Apart from the status of a ‘lady superstar’, Sridevi also acquired the title of the Empress who ruled the box-office in the 80s and early 90s. At a time when most other actresses were confined to playing second fiddle to the heroes in a male-dominated industry, she was the only actress for whom directors would specially write scripts. Moreover distributors and exhibitors considered a film dominated by Sridevi was considered a big bet at the box-office

According to noted Rajasthan distributor Raj Bansal, who had the privilege of distributing several Sridevi starrers including two of her landmark films, Lamhe and Chandni, she was the only heroine in the 80s who could carry a film on her shoulders with a cent percent success rating, “I had the privilege of watching her closely from Lamhe to Chandni and Mahesh Bhatt’s Gumrah, besides Subhash Ghai’s Karma. Her talent and versatility were matchless and she ruled the hearts of the audiences at that time. She was considered the queen of the box-office,” Bansal revealed.

Apparently the craze for her films was such that distributors would vie with each other to acquire the rights, “There were no apprehensions when it came to the business of Sridevi starrers. They were considered a big bet and distributors would queue up to acquire the rights of her films. She was also one of the highest paid actresses at that time and roles were written specially for her.”

The veteran distributor, who had met Sridevi and Boney Kapoor on several occasions, also about her magical transformation in front of the camera, when he witnessed the shooting of Lamhe, which was entirely shot in Rajasthan, “Her transformation in front of the camera was amazing. After the lights would be switched off, she would return back to her own self-quiet and composed. She was also a wonderful hostess-soft-spoken and extremely polite,” Bansal recalled.

“She would stun directors by her perfect takes. She was the uncrowned queen of acting”- Subhash Ghai

It was this spontaneity and talent that helped cultivate a unique relation between the actress and millions of her fans. Veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai who worked with Sridevi in the 1985 film, Karma recalled Sridevi’s “electrifying” transformation in front of the camera, “She was pure magic on screen. “She was an introvert by nature but she was electrifying in in front of the camera.   She would stun directors by her perfect takes and the ease and conviction with which she performed her roles. Whether it was dance, drama or romance, she was the uncrowned queen of acting in all languages in her times,” Ghai revealed. “The best thing about her was that she constantly maintained her dignity and integrity as a person in a demanding industry,” he said.

 “Sridevi starrers were considered a big bet and distributors would queue up to acquire the rights of her films”- Raj Bansal, distributor of Chandni and Lamhe

According to director Rakesh Roshan, it was Sridevi’s huge potential that prompted him to cast her in his Hindi production, Jaag Utha Insaan, followed by Bhagwaan Dada, “She was an unparalleled actor with great talent.  I was the first to bring her to Mumbai and cast Srdevi in my production, Jaag Utha Insaan. Though she had established herself as a big name in the south, I had a feeling that she had this great potential to shine in Hindi films,” Rakesh Roshan recalled.

Veteran filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, who had directed Sridevi in Mr India, aptly described her amazing energy on camera in his tribute on Instagram, “Your energy on camera was scintillating. There was not a moment on screen that you did not have the audience in your grip. Be it an emotion, a comic moment, a dance,” he said. He described the passing away of the actress as an era gone by, “It’s like an era is over. A beautiful story just ended,” he tweeted.

Born Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan, Sridevi made her Bollywood debut as a child artiste in the popular 1975 film Julie. In her impressive career spanning five decades, Sridevi worked in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films even as she consolidated her career in the Hindi movie industry. Among her best known films in the south are 16 Vayathinile, Sigappu Rojakkal, Pathinaru Vayadhinile, Meendum Kokila and Moondram Pirai, Kshana Kshanam and Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari.