Book review: Sridevi The Queen of Hearts by Lalita Iyer

Star-struck, and how? Iyer also informs the reader about Sridevi’s reticence, probably a not-so-well-known fact about the actor.

During late 1970s and early 1980s, movie viewing in Mumbai meant visiting those large single-screen theatres, now mostly replaced by multiplexes. Often, morning shows in these theatres would be reserved for Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada films.

During those years, South Indian moviegoers would get a chance to catch some of Sridevi’s Tamil films – Pathinaru Vaithanile, Sigappu Rojakkal, Varumayim Niram Sivappu, Moonram Pirai and Meedum Kokila among others. Soon after, she crossed over to Hindi films. Now, not just South Indians, but all Indians were watching her films.

Bollywood happened to Sridevi primarily because of the “relentless drive” of her mother Rajeswari Yanger, says Lalita Iyer in her book Sridevi – Queen of Hearts.

To fulfil her own ambitions to be an actor, Rajeswari Yanger chose her daughter Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan, popularly known to the world as Sridevi. At the age of two, she was made to do the rounds of studios.

Sridevi’s life as an actor started at the age of four and her childhood was in “fast-forward mode” as she was working two shifts a day doing Tamil and Telegu films, and occasionally, Malayalam and Kannada, says Iyer. “Before she knew it, she had turned from a child to a woman at the age of 11,” she says of Sridevi.

Iyer admits that she had never met Sridevi. During her journalistic years from 2005 to 2014, Sridevi had moved away from her acting career. The author also could not manage to meet the star when she returned to acting with her movie English Vinglish. She has largely depended on interviews and write-ups about Sridevi for her book.

The book will certainly appeal to the die-hard fans of Sridevi, and there are many out there. In that sense, the timing of the book is apt as it has been published within months of the actor’s much-discussed tragic and sudden demise.

The book gently tracks Sridevi’s journey through her film career, in a journalistic way, basically encapsulating the events in the actor’s life as they unfolded. The narrative moves back and forth analysing many of the facets of the popular actor.

Iyer says Sridevi’s entry into Hindi films could not be timed better. In the 80s, Hindi film industry was going through a low and there was no real contender for the number one position. She, therefore, benefited immensely, as she came like a breath of fresh air for the industry. She also helped resuscitate the careers of many of the leading men in the industry. She worked with practically most of the leading male actors of those times.

Her first major Hindi film, Himmatwala, was among the 10 highest grossing films of the 1980s. This led to Sridevi’s “meteoric rise” in the Hindi film industry overnight, says Iyer.

Sridevi, according to Iyer, did not seek a perfect figure. She stood tall at five feet seven inches. “One of the side effects of moving to Bollywood from Tamil and Telegu films was that she finally got to work with men her height, occasionally taller,” she says in the chapter on ‘Body Image and Other Matters’.

Iyer has tried to capture many aspects of Sridevi’s life that include her interrupted childhood or her mother’s dominance in her life. Not knowing the language never hampered Sridevi’s acting abilities, says Iyer.

“For someone who always had a language dilemma, Sridevi had a long and illustrious career across almost 300 Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada movies,” she says in the chapter, ‘Language, No Bar’.

Sridevi was not a trained dancer unlike the other actors including Madhuri Dixit, Meenakshi Seshadri, Jaya Prada, or Bhanupriya. What she had was an “innate, untutored” talent for dance.

“Her natural rhythm and her face, which conveyed a million expressions, was what made her pure magic on screen,” says Iyer, barely hiding her admiration for the departed actor.

Iyer also informs the reader about Sridevi’s reticence, probably a not-so-well-known fact about the actor.

The book opens with a foreword by Adil Hussain, Sridevi’s co-star in the movie English Vinglish. While working with her during the making of the film, Adil found her to be a quiet, sensitive and vulnerable actor. He believes Sridevi’s practice of quietude was the reason for her perfect timing. “She was a unique actor with a uniquely Indian style of acting,” he says.

Undoubtedly an easy read, but the book does leave the reader with many unanswered questions about Sridevi.

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Book review: Sridevi The Queen of Hearts by Lalita Iyer

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