Sridevi & Her Heroes: Why the Actor Stopped Working With Big B

The following is an excerpt from Sridevi’s biography titled Sridevi: Queen of Hearts by Lalita Iyer.

Hero No. 1

While Sridevi was riding high in the ‘80s, Anil Kapoor jumped on the bandwagon; so did Mithun Chakraborty, Sunny Deol, Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha. Sridevi made a beautiful foil for all of them. At the time, Rajesh Khanna was desperate for a second innings, so he too also joined the party. He graduated from doing two-heroine films to two-hero films and Sridevi managed to keep Kaka relevant for a few more years with Maqsad, Masterji, Nazrana and Naya Kadam.

She resuscitated Rishi Kapoor’s career and they went on to do five films together: Chandni, Banjaran, Nagina, Gurudev and Kaun Sachcha Kaun Jhootha. Among these, Chandni and Nagina were the most successful of the lot, with the songs smashing all records.

Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor in Chandni.

Sridevi now called the shots; she had come a long way. ‘Earlier producers used to take me for outdoor shooting to godforsaken places like Rajmundry where the shooting conditions were bad. I used to be there at their mercy for 20 days at a stretch, burning in the sun, bearing all the discomfiture. Today, it’s different. My producers ask me, Madam, where would you like to shoot? Ooty, Simla, Switzerland. That’s it. I guess things change with success,’ she said in a Stardust interview in October, 1989.

Sridevi was even able to bequeath the ‘angry young man’ a softer hero image with Inquilaab, Aakhree Raasta and Khuda Gawah. However, running around in badly designed pyjama suits with smocks while Sridevi was in a pink shimmer dress as she tries to seduce him in Aaj Abhi Yahin (Inquilaab, 1984) was not very becoming in Amitabh at fifty, and in any case their chemistry wasn’t exactly breaking the box-office. Shashi Kapoor wanted Sridevi badly for Ajooba with Amitabh Bachchan but Sridevi was not too keen; the role was not what she wanted it to be (this is another role Sridevi refused that went to Dimple). In addition to that it was tough to put Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi in one movie because it would skyrocket the movie’s budget. In an interview in 1987, Sridevi said, ‘I have never said I won't work with Amitji. But then what's there for any artiste to do in a film starring him? He does everything himself.’

She was seeking her place in the industry as a superstar in her own right. At this time, Sridevi was used to rejecting movies opposite Amitabh Bachchan if they did not offer her the same importance and equal footage, if not more.

Sridevi with Amitabh Bachchan in Khuda Gawah.

By the time she was offered Khuda Gawah, Sridevi had already declared, ‘No more miniscule roles in Bachchan starrers!’ She finally agreed on the condition that she would play both roles—of mother and daughter (the daughter’s role was initially offered to Shaheen, Saira Banu’s niece). Although the audience loved Khuda Gawah, Bachchan and Sridevi don’t have much on-screen time together since the movie is all about viraha (parting). The film, advertised as India's No.1 Actor with India’s No.1 Actress, was undoubtedly made at a colossal budget; it opened to a great response but was an average hit. Both Sridevi and Amitabh Bachchan got rave reviews for their performances. Sridevi was nominated for best actress and till date is the only actress who has done a double role in a movie with Amitabh Bachchan. She always pushed for screen time which was on par with her male co-leads, as well as equal pay—long before these were widely discussed topics.

In many ways Sridevi’s career mirrored that of Amitabh Bachchan’s with whom she was constantly compared at the height of her stardom. They both started out as pure actors under pure filmmakers: Bachchan with K.A. Abbas, and Hrishikesh Mukherjee; Sridevi with K. Balachander, P Bharathiraja and J. Mahendran in the South.

Just as Bachchan made the transition from actor to star through the Salim-Javed films and later as an all-round entertainer/performer with the films of Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra, so did Sridevi; except for her, the transition was from Tamil/Telugu to Hindi films.

The Anil Kapoor-Sridevi jodi didn’t make much magic at the box office. Of their thirteen films together, there were only five which were hits: Judaai, Laadla, Jaanbaaz, Mr. India, and Karma (and they were not always paired with each other). The rest were flops: Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, Aasman Se Gira, Heer Ranjha, Lamhe, Joshilaay, Gurudev, Mr. Bechara, Sone Pe Suhaaga and Ram Avtar. The most beloved film was of course, Mr. India, in which Anil Kapoor remained largely invisible. The role was originally written for Amitabh Bachchan, who walked out because of differences with Salim-Javed and for years, it was Anil Kapoor’s biggest claim to fame that he had walked into a role originally written for Amitabh Bachchan.

Sridevi with Anil Kapoor in Mr India.

Another pairing which failed at the box-office was Sridevi with Sunny Deol. They worked together in Sultanat (the 1986 movie which became famous as Karan Kapoor’s disastrous debut), Nigahen (1988), Joshilaay (1989), Main Tera Dushman (1989) and Ram Avtar (1988)—all duds. Their only hit film together was Chaalbaaz (1989), but it had two Sridevis instead of one, so you can imagine what was left for the men to do. Rajinikanth still managed a memorable scene with ‘Aaj Sunday hai, aaj peene ka din hai,’ but poor Sunny was left high and dry as Sridevi waltzed in the rain with her raincoat and umbrella in Na Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai, and went on to win the Filmfare Award for best actress for her performance. He vowed never to work with her again.

Around the same time, Sridevi also worked with daddy Deol—Dharmendra in Farshitay, Naaka Bandi, Sone Pe Suhaaga, Watan Ke Rakhwale, Sultanat and Jaani Dost. However, the two were paired with each other only in Naaka Bandi.

Sridevi worked with Govinda for the first time in Gair Kanooni (1989), a movie that had audiences whistling for her comic performance. Govinda had pleaded with film director Prayag Raj to get him into the film with Sridevi. The film became a hit at the box office and is the only Sridevi-Govinda starrer.

By now, she was used to doing title roles (where the movie posters said: Sridevi: In and as… ) like Sherni, opposite Shatrughan Sinha (in which she does stunts in a chaniya choli, and jumps on rooftops).

When Vinod Khanna made a comeback, post his Osho phase, Sridevi played his love interest in two out of the three films: Pathar Ke Insan, Farishtay and the superhit Chandni.

The Sridevi - Jackie Shroff jodi never worked.

With Jackie Shroff there was Halla Bol (guest appearance for both), Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, Pathar Ke Insan, Main Tera Dushman, Jawab Hum Denge and Karma together. Nothing earth-shattering happened.

In 1996, Shah Rukh Khan made a guest appearance in Army, an out and out Sridevi film where he was killed off quite early; the rest of the movie is dominated by Sridevi and her five-man-army. SRK is known to have famously said, ‘I did the film so I could tell my children I worked with an icon!’

In the year 2004, Meri Biwi Ka Jawaab Nahin, Sridevi's only film with Akshay ‘Khiladi’ Kumar, released in cinema halls. The film had Sridevi playing a country bumpkin Durga, who speaks only in rhymes with a Bhojpuri accent and passes time in spying on people and gossiping with the paan seller—Gangu. Although the film was shot in 1994, the release was delayed because the producer went absconding and there was no money to complete the movie. The bizarre climax, one that seems stitched together as an afterthought, had body doubles replacing the lead pair.

In an episode of Koffee With Karan, Akshay Kumar revealed this. ‘Sridevi and I hold hands and we say that we will take revenge in the film,’ Kumar said. ‘But we did not shoot the revenge part. A text on the screen reads Un dono ne milke phir badla liya (They both later take their revenge), and the film ends.’

The cover of Sridevi: Queen of Hearts by Lalita Iyer.

By the mid-eighties, Sridevi was tired of the Southern remakes and the Himmatwala brand of films, and became picky. This infuriated her ‘makers’—including K. Raghavendra Rao, T. Rama Rao, and A. Poornachandra Rao (of Padmalaya Film Studios, that produced Himmatwala). Soon they started casting Meenakshi Seshadri and Bhanupriya in their films, but they couldn’t recreate the Sridevi magic.

(Excerpted with permission from Sridevi: Queen of Hearts by Lalita Iyer. To be published on 28 September 2018 by Westland Publishing.)

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