Remembering Bollywood’s Chandni: The mesmerising, incredibly talented doe-eyed beauty, Sridevi

Published: February 26, 2018

I would never fail to notice that how gorgeous she continued to look despite being well into her 40s.

When you are a young boy, you tend to hang pictures of people in your room whom you admire and love. Whose picture goes up on your wall depends on how old you are. When you are between five and 10, it is normally superheroes like Superman, Batman and so on. Then, as you age beyond 10, posters of superheroes get replaced by real life figures, like sportsmen and male movie stars.

Then, at a certain time, normally when you are well into teen years, pictures of female movie stars also start appearing. Of course, it coincides with adolescence and the time when you start developing interest in courtship and romance. The first picture of a female movie star or singer is often of a person who is also your first massive crush.

Just like all boys, I went through the same cycle. At one point, pictures of Spiderman and Superman were replaced by that of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Imran Khan. However, there wasn’t any picture of a female star despite me being well into my teens.

Then I watched Lamhe. Next day, I remember going to the shop and buying a huge poster of Sridevi Boney Kapoor.

I loved the movie and even more than the movie, it’s incredibly talented and beautiful star. Sridevi was mesmerising in the movie and showed exceptional range of acting skills coupled with an amazing diversity of facial expressions. I don’t remember how many times I rented the video cassette (those were the VCR days!) and watched it. During those times, it was the one movie I could never get tired of watching.

Photo: Giphy

I became obsessed with the star and started to watch her older movies also. I watched Chandni, a movie revolving around a love triangle. She was brilliant and outshined both Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna, despite the fact that both of them were also established actors.

I loved her in Mr India, which could easily have been called Ms India as she literally stole the show from Anil Kapoor. I was amazed by her acting abilities in Chaalbaaz where she played a double role of women with extremely different personalities. One role was of a docile and timid woman while the other of a strong and extremely confident woman. She played both roles with incredible ease. She was brilliant and looked incredibly pretty in Gumrah too.

Photo: Giphy

Back then I was so obsessed with her that I actually started to dislike Madhuri Dixit, an equally brilliant star and her fierce rival in those days. My close friends of that time used to tease me about my infatuation with her, as in their opinion, it was bordering obsession. I would go to bookshops to browse through Indian magazines like Filmfare and Stardust just to find about box office standings of her releases.

Bollywood actor Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit attend Grand Finale of TV Show Jhalak Dikhala Jaa Season 5 at Filmistan, Goregaon, on September 25, 2012, in Mumbai, India. Photo: Getty

Showbiz stars are incredible as they are perhaps the only kind of people who transcend the borders in an age of hyper-patriotism. Here was a Pakistani lad having a hopeless crush over an actress who belonged to the supposedly “enemy” country. But for me, for that matter for millions of other Pakistanis fans of her, it was of no concern. She belonged to the entire subcontinent.

After she got married in 1996, she decided to settle for domestic life and was hardly seen on the big screen. With age, I also got over the level of infatuation which I used to feel for her. However, the affinity remained. After all, you don’t forget your teenage heroes and crushes! With the advent of internet, I would at times Google her name just to keep up with what was going on with her. Since she was not working, most of the news about her consisted of her appearing at some party or the other. I would never fail to notice how gorgeous she continued to look despite being well into her 40s. In fact, with age, she looked better and better.

After hiatus of so many years, she made a return in the memorable English Vinglish, in which she again gave a masterly performance. English Vinglish is beautiful story of a house wife who arrives in the US but cannot speak in English, a deficiency which often leads to her family making fun of her. She seeks respect from her family and in the process learns to speak the language. The speech in English she gives at the end was so beautiful and touching. Ironically, the first time I watched the movie was when I was on my flight was when I was coming to the US for my PhD.

Photo: Giphy

All her movies including English Vinglish had one thing in common – she was the central figure. This by no means is a trivial thing as back in those days (for that matter even now) movies used to be completely male-centric and the heroine was just a sidekick, often added for increasing glamour quotient of the movie. This was, however, not the case for Sridevi. All her movies were women-oriented or at least had her in a very strong, central role.

I remember Khuda Gawah, which paired her with the legendary Amitabh Bachchan who always used to work in movies which completely revolved around him. However, even in that movie, Sridevi played an equally strong role. I remember one Indian movie journalist wrote,

Khuda Gawah is a Sridevi movie which happens to have Bachchan in it!”

It was Sridevi more than any other heroine who elevated the status of female stars in the Bollywood industry, a fact which is acknowledged by many following heroines. In a male-dominated society and movie industry, Sridevi started as an exception, gradually paving the way for others to follow suit. However, she set such high standards that no heroine has been able to reach with respect to parity with the male stars. In her heydays, her pay cheque was often higher than that of her male co-stars. Only Madhuri, and in more contemporary time Deepika Padukone, come anywhere close.

Now, suddenly she has passed away. It was so sudden and out of nowhere, that the entire world has been left stunned. How could someone apparently healthy and physically fit die so soon?

Immediately after news of her death started to make global headlines, my younger brother who knew my teenage infatuation with her, sent a touching video message by Sridevi. In the video, she thanked Pakistani actors Adnan Siddiqui and Sajal Ali for their roles in her last movie MOM and broke into tears as they could not come for the premier in India due to the rising political situation between the two countries.

It was so touching. An icon rising above petty nationalist hate and showing her love for stars from the “enemy” country at a time where toxic nationalism reigns supreme on both sides of the border!

Photo: Giphy

I became teary eyed after watching it, could not help it. In life, many times you are forced to reassess your views, stances and even your teenage idols. Life, at times, changes you. I have changed a lot since the 90s and have been forced to review many stances I have previously taken or the public figures I used to admire

But Sridevi? No way. That video message reaffirmed my belief that at least not all my idols were flawed.

As I write these words, Lamhe’s beautiful song Yeh Lamhe resonates in the background. The lyrics are so beautiful and perhaps describe the collective sentiments which many besides me are feeling.

A beautiful part of my younger years has been taken away, and yes, “yeh lamhe yeh pal hum barson yaad karein ge (these moments, we will remember for years)”.

Thank you, Madam, for giving us those beautiful moments.

Rest in Peace.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sejal Kumar

    Sridevi was really a great legendary actress. Her Hawa Hawai song was my all time favorite.Bollywood Industry has lost one among the many shining stars. May her soul rest in peace.

  • madhu

    we need such writers to bring pakistan and india closer to each other- free from malice and hatred… but only infused with love and harmony …ameenRecommend

  • gp65

    Sri Devi was very good no doubt but she did not start the trend of heroine characters being central or having strong roles. Hema Malini in Seeta and Geeta was the inspiration of Sridevi’s Chaalbaaz. In Sholay with Amitabh, Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar as male heroes, people still remember the vivacious Basanti. Just to name a couple of movies. Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi from what used to be called parallel cinema and Jaya Bhaduri (now Bacchaan) also worked in a lot of authorbacked and versatile roles. Roles of Jaya that one cannot forget are Uphaar, Guddi, Koshish, Abhimaan,Mili. Same can be said about Rekha from Khoobsurat to Khoon bhari Maang to Ijaazat. If one goes further back – Nutan was exceptional and the central character in Sujata, Sone ki chidiya, Seema and Saudagar.
    What differentiated SriDevi from many others is that she reached the top not just In Hindi cinema but also Telugu and Tamil. She also had some key roles in Malayalam cinema.Recommend

  • RHR

    Although occasionally, heroin oriented and strong roles had been played even before Sridevi, but it was her who actually rose to that status, that roles were practically written for her. While Nutan may have played some such roles, she never achieved that boxoffice stardom where literally every role was a strong role. In her case Sridevi she often eclipsed her male counterparts and that too on consistent basis.
    Nutan and Kekha and all never had that clout where producers rushed to make heroine oriented movies.Recommend

  • Shiv Nadar

    beautifully narrated….thanks Raza!Recommend

  • gp65

    You are younger, so do not have any idea of the clout that Rekha and Sridevi had in their times.
    Jaya Bhaduri, Smita and Shabana – each one of them have performed far more author backed roles compared to Sridevi.
    Again Sridevi was wonderful – not undermining her at all but she was not the first one to have specific author backed roles written for her.Recommend

  • RHR

    When I say clout, it is box office clout and the number of heroin oriented films as a percentage of the Bollywood films an actress has worked in.
    This is something where many critics agree that Sridevi was ahead. Of course that does not mean tha Rekha etc did not work in such movies but they did not have the same impact or even the same percentage. That is the only point I am makingRecommend

  • gp65

    Where did you come up with the percentage? What according to was the percentage of author backed roles out of total roles for SriDevi vs . Nutan, Jaya Bhaduri and Rekha?
    I know a lot of running around trees movies of SriDevi (Himmatwala, Tohfa, Maqsad, Justice Chaudhry, Solva Saawan) while there were hardly any such for Jaya Bhaduri who was a top heroine in the 70s. And she was in commercial cinema and gave big hits.
    Nutan too was in commercial cinema and gave big hits.
    Making claims about percentages without citing any sources undermines your credibility.Recommend

  • abhi

    Exactly my thoughts. Not taking away anything from Sridevi, there were female leads in past who have been central and strong charcters in the movies. Having said that the very well written article paying tribute to Sridevi.Recommend

  • Gauravi Pal

    Rekha had far more roles that were author backed – Khubsoorat, Utsav, Umeao Jaan, Khoon bhari maang, Jhoothi, Ghar, Ijaazat, Basera.
    You should check them out and you will realize what a diverse range of characters she played. Far more than Sridevi.
    And of course she did a great job at the typical Song and dance Bollywood fare like Me. Natwarlal and Suhaag.Recommend