Reading Sridevi: Book promises to reveal the little details about one who was unaware of her own power

On a Sunday, the book Sridevi written by Satyarth Nayak, a former journalist and writer for Porus on Sony, was launched. It was unveiled to a Mumbai audience at the Taj Lands End.

The cover is a blend of the well acclaimed screen goddess’s poise, and doe-eyed demeanour which sets her apart from the rest. The unveiling of the book was followed by a talk between journalist and author Anil Dharker, film producer and director Karan Johar and author, scriptwriter Nayak himself.

Dharker posed Johar and Nayak questions that tried to investigate the actress’s life – an actress whose life has been a mixed bag of tremendous success and controversy.

The conversation started with Dharker speaking about the little girl, as referred to in the book, who at four started dancing in the aisle when she went to the movies with her parents.

One can say, it was this incident that shows the makings of star, a girl who was never self-conscious or affected in the presence of a camera. Said Johar, “I’m a lifelong fan of Sridevi. My love for the movies, in large part, has everything to do with her. I went to see Julie with my house help and saw Himmatwala multiple times. I went running to see Mr. India and ‘Kaate nahi kat te...’ was my anthem.”

The actress, whose ability to be completely free in front of the camera is legendary, was spoken about as someone who embodied sex appeal and someone who could snare one in with a look.

“Her eyes had a way of connecting with you. At 12 she was playing lead roles. She couldn’t dance, and perhaps her footwork was not correct, but her face danced,” acceded Nayak and Johar. “When Madhuri Dixit danced we danced, but when Sridevi danced, we watched,” was what both Nayak and Johar agreed upon during an evening when many of Sridevi’s fans had assembled to remember and celebrate the artist’s life.

“Boney sir and Anil Kapoor have given a lot of inputs for the book. I was fortunate to meet a lot of the actors and directors she has worked with, like Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Nagarjuna, Chiranjeevi, Rishi Kapoor, Sunny Deol. It’s been almost 60 – 70 people that I’ve interviewed for the book. That’s why the book has come out so wonderful, because you have all these narratives, their stories, their anecdotes, their memories of her. That’s the beating heart of the book,” Nayak shared.

Johar then brought out how the Lamhe actress always kept to herself, and every time he tried to have a conversation with her, she wouldn’t converse back, because she was so shy. Johar thereafter shared how the camera was her best friend, and how she didn’t do any interviews, appending that “She was also the best mimic, and could mimic almost any one by studying their body language and the way they spoke.” Johar then added how finally he did manage to have a conversation with her, about Meryl Streep whom she admired greatly.

Says Nayak in the book, “It was not long before all comparisons ceased to exist. Sridevi had now surpassed not just her contemporaries but her seniors too. Unlike Hema Malini, she was flaunting her body. Unlike Zeenat Aman, she had classic Indian appeal. And compared to Rekha, she had superior comic timing. The July 1984 issue of Filmfare brought out a solo Sridevi cover with the tagline declaring unquestionably No. 1.”

In parts, the book risks coming across as a gush fest, where lines continue to heap praise on the actress, and sometimes dangerously moves into territories where critics will describe it as being one-sided.

“Sridevi was like an androgynous personality. She was a great icon for the LGBT community and she never realised that. Her shape shifting avatar in Nagina, helped many who were closeted to own up to who they were,” supplemented Nayak. Johar added, “Sridevi as a star was illusive, exclusive, and a major mega movie star. There was that utter fearlessness about her comedy. She had the ability to laugh at herself. The difference between a great actor and a good actor is that a great actor has an immediate instinct, and she had it.”