There are very few journalists who Sridevi's entertained with an audience for a lengthy period. Journalist Nina Arora was one of the lucky few.
Rakesh Shreshta, of course, did yet another glorious shoot for this (half!) cover story with Sridevi. Kindly note in credits, outfit designed by a very young Manish Malhotra, who was a new model-turned-designer then. Sridevi looks like a doll doesn't she?! A fantastic MOVIE magazine feature and shoot. The images were so pretty, it was used in the Lux ad campaign with Sridevi later.
October 1993 MOVIE mag cover story. Well, half.
BEWARE! THE TIGRESS CROUCHES
"No.1." Two little words which the press now translates as Madhuri Dixit. But why should these two words necessarily spell 'The End' to Sridevi's reign? The public still adores Sri. Film-makers still swear by her, saying that there are certain roles which beg Sridevi's magnificent screen presence. And I, personally, am convinced that she is beyond compare, above numbers, our greatest contemporary entertainer whose track performance unsurpassed by another, other than herself. However, right now, what everybody wants to know is how Sridevi herself feels about her challenged position as No.1. Does she accept the press' verdict, reject it or consider both actresses on par?
|Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi at the audio release of Khuda Gawah|
Sridevi: If there is a change, I would notice it immediately. But my position is still the same. These numbers are given by the press. I never gave myself the title of No.1. So all I can say is that whichever position I was in, is still unchanged. I get the same respect from the public as well as the industry. There is no difference in the way they treat me today.
Q: What do you think of Madhuri?
Sridevi: I don't want to comment on any other actress. I've never stooped to the level of degrading any other actress nor do I like boasting about myself. Please keep me out of this kind of controversy. i'm prepared to answer any and every question provided it only pertains to me. But pulling down others to blow my own trumpet is not my style. I'm concerned only with the quality of my work - criticism or appreciation is in the hands of the public.
Q: Is your conviction about yourself based on feedback from the public or is it because you live in an ivory tower and nobody has the guts to tell the empress that she has no clothes on?
Sridevi: It was an innocent child who told the emperor that he has no clothes on, in the story isn't it? Well, most of my fan letters are from children! Moreover, the industry still seeks me out.
Q: Even after the debacle of Roop Ki Rani…
Sridevi: Not a single person has said that the film flopped because of me. I put my best into Roop Ki Rani… exactly as I do with all my films. Some are hits, some flop. I cannot be held responsible for the box office collection of a film. There are other departments and I'm not involved with shaping the film in totality.
Q: But you had a lot riding on Roop Ki Rani… Aftr the failure of big films like Lamhe, Heer Ranjha, etc. It was supposed to be your acid test.
Sridevi: Why should people assume that I am banking on the next film because the previous one may have flopped? Several big films including Sultanat had flopped before Mr. India. Then again, I had a string of flops before and after Nagina. Until Chandni. So, this has happened throughout my career. I started with a flop called Solva Saawan, remember? Yet, I was welcomed back in Himmatwala. Which again was followed by a flop, Sadma. So what's new?
Q: It doesn't affect you that huge sums of money are invested in your films, that the lives and careers of quite a few people depend on the films recovering that money? How can you be so cold and callous as to say that a flop doesn't affect you? You take your moolah and after that, you don't care if a producer drowns in debt?
Sridevi: Of course, I feel bad if a filmmaker suffers losses, but it is all part of the game. I can be blamed only if I have harassed him during the making of the film or if I have not taken my work seriously. Both of which I am not guilty of.
Q: Rumour has it that you charged Boney Kapoor a lakh for each extra day's shooting.
Sridevi: On the contrary I let go of a sizable amount from my fee because I could see that they were in difficulties. Excuse me, I'm not that inhuman. When I said that flops do not affect me, all I meant was that I don't turn into a bundle of nerves on the eve of a release. I felt really bad for Satish Kaushik. Roop Ki Rani... was his first film. He put his life and soul into it. For hs sake, more than mine, I wish it had done well.
Q: Did you tell him that?
Sridevi: Not in so many words. But we were together for some shows abroad soon after the film's release and we've spoken and he knows that I am a genuine well-wisher. If only there was something I could do.
Q: You could make another film with him to show to the industry your unshaken faith in him.
Sridevi: If an offer comes by, definitely.
Q: Just like that, I doubt if it will. If you mean it, you'll have to make it happen. Which producer is going to risk combining two factors out of a massive flop?
Sridevi: Why not, I signed Laadla with Anil [Kapoor] after Roop Ki Rani's release.
Q: You said that if the industry cold-shoulders you then you would notice it immediately. But you've never showed any awareness of your producers' mute resentment at having to pay your astronomical expenses such as airfare to and from Madras, for you as well as your chaperones, the 5-star hotel bills etc.
Sridevi: I've bought my own flat in Bombay and I've been staying there for the past one year.
Q: After a whole decade of living out of suitcases! Didn't you feel at home in Bombay?
Sridevi: It's not that I don't like Bombay. The reason for having to stay in hotels was that I did not like any of the residences I saw. Either the surrounding wasn't as good as the building or the flat was too poky or the security wasn't reassuring enough. Since I have a spacious house in Madras, I decided that it was better to live in a hotel than to organize elaborate arrangements for some depressing little hole in a wall.
I don't think money was a consideration here for either me or my producers. Top stars get paid more in the South. We don't have to come to Bombay for that.
Q: You give the impression of being arrogant.
Sridevi: I'm not arrogant at all. I know my worth which is not the same as being arrogant. The industry has a long list of talented and beautiful actresses whose luck ran out. It can happen to anyone at anytime. Nobody can take your talent away from you, but nobody can help you either the day destiny leads you elsewhere. So what sense does it make for anyone to be arrogant?
Q: There are people who've worked with your for years and they say that they are no closer to you today than they were on the first day. You don't allow people to get to know the real you.
Sridevi: Nothing like that.
|Sridevi on the set of Chandramukhi|
Sridevi: I speak English aur main Hindi bhi bolti hoon! [and I speak Hindi also].
Q: You are extremely competitive…
Q: And stubborn.
Sridevi. Very stubborn.
Q: When it's no longer money, what's the temptation? What drives you to work around the clock? Prestige? Power? An addiction to fame?
Sridevi: It's definitely not the money. It's involvement. Or else, I would be doing 15-20 films and grabbing left, right and centre. I still sign only one of every five offers. I'm so involved in my work, it's like breathing. In fact, I may forget to breathe during an intense closeup but I'll not forget my work in order to laze around.
Q: Though you can afford to take it easy, how long are you going to continue like this, putting your personal life on hold? Though just a couple of weeks ago you had a nasty accident, you only took time off for as long as it needed for the scar on your cheek to heal.
Sridevi: Stupid accident. I'd lost weight drastically and I had a dizzy spell and collapsed. But yes, my mother is very worried about me. She feels I should marry a good man and let him take care of me!
Q: What's your idea of a 'good man'? A mega-celebrity in his own right?
Sridevi: The fact is that my mother doesn't want me to settle anywhere abroad. She would rather have me close by, in Madras. Like my sister Lata. We meet every day. What mummy would like ideally is to find another son-in-law as nice as Lata's husband and one who lives near us. Whenever Lata and her husband come to visit, mummy watches us laughing and talking, she wishes that I too should marry soon.
Q: So what's the hitch?
Sridevi: The bridegroom!
Q: Not your obsessive affair with superstardom?
Sridevi: I don't believe in affairs. I would prefer to take my mother's advice, consent and blessings for lasting happiness.
Q: Even if your choice clashes with mummy's?
Sridevi: Well, she wants that the person should be from our caste. Then he should also get along with the rest of the family. And of course, he should suit me also! We're not bothered about riches. In fact, we don't want an actor. So far, she has not found anyone who meets all our requirements and so I'm continuing to act. I can't leave everything and go searching for a husband. So first let him appear on the scene. Then we will see. In case we disagree over him, still nothing to worry about, destiny will have the last word.
Q: Aren't you scared of leaving such a major decision to chance? I mean, it's a pretty tall order for a man to live up to being Sridevi's husband.
Sridevi: I won't play the star at home. I'm very domesticated. Come and see me at home, you'll be surprised. I dress very simply, I can cook you a meal, but calorie less.
Q: Aren't you being a little too simplistic?
Sridevi: I will choose a very simple husband.
Q: But if he's that simple, he's going to find it more of a problem to adjust to being titled Sridevi's husband.
Sridevi: You'll see, we'll be very happily married. Because I'm a perfectionist. After marriage, I will be perfect as a wife too. I will always be perfect, no matter what I do.
|Sridevi, photograph by Rakesh Shreshta. Outfit and styling Manish Malhotra|
Sridevi never ceases to surprise me. Although one has heard paeans of praise for her disciplined approach and dedication to her career, one has also heard equally about her inaccessibility, arrogance and cool impassivity. So one has learned not to expect any personal vibes beyond professional interaction. But the day I did this interview, she surprised me again.
She was ill, wan, running a temperature and still having to shoot. She could have easily and politely asked me to come another day. Instead, she astonished me by waiving away my apologies and giving me all the time I needed. And this in-spite of the fact, that the angle itself of the interview was abhorrent to her.
I didn't know how she would react. Well, she was upset though she bravely tried not to show it. She didn't like being compared to Madhuri. And yet, she took it on the chin like a true pro. Caught between not reacting or be on the defensive or sound boastful, and on the other hand having no desire to rollover and play dead just to convenience her critics, Sridevi, nevertheless took this interview sportingly.
She chatted, joked and laughed. "You know me so well," she said.