Monday, 26 February 2018 | RINKU GHOSH-
SRIDEVI was a very private person, rarely giving interviews. It was only during the promotions of MOM last year that she took time out to do a select few. She was running a bit late with us only because she hadn’t had breakfast and managed a few bites with Boney Kapoor. And both had come to the breakfast buffet instead of ordering in-room. And then she made it all up with her ethereal smile and grace under pressure. Excerpts of her last interview to rinku ghosh.
Sridevi is back with a breakthrough role in her latest home production. In an exclusive chat with Team Viva, she talks about not yielding to pressure of the changing times, being a real life mother and enhancing her skills in the company of new talent
Truth be told. Sridevi can not only give the Khans a run for their money. She can beat them hands down. She has done about 300 films during her working life, that too in many languages, and given us characters that have stayed with us like an aftertaste of good times. If ever there can be she-heroes, she would be the pioneer. And at 50 plus, she looks fabulous and dewy. Yes, she does look great without the customary make-up, propped up on a sofa in her room, hair tied up in a casual toss and luxuriating in a chic summer maxi dress. Yet for all her grace and poise, she is as everyday as she can be.
Unfazed by the flurry of promotions for her home production MOM, she settles down without a wrinkle. “In my time, big films were about doing a few interviews in a couple of magazines and newspapers and we were done. Now it’s a different game altogether with the penetration of social media platforms, live interactions and the need to be visually present. But I don’t feel pressured by the demand to be in the buzz. Change is the only constant and one has to change with the time and get used to it. In the end, for all the anticipation, your work has to deliver the goods. And that’s what matters,” she says.
The film revolves around a mother, Devaki (played by Sridevi) and her teenage daughter Arya, where the former struggles to save the latter from some mishap while riding the crests and troughs of a conflicted relationship. Devaki’s choices in the film are not about good and bad but about coursing through the spectrum between bad and worse. An intense role, Sridevi debunks reports that she had cut herself off from her family while prepping for it. “Frankly, I have never done rigorous preparations. I go with a bit of my instinct and entirely my director’s vision. With MOM, it was about genuine emotions. So during the shooting, I was a little aloof and did not interact with my husband or my children as frequently. I wanted to be in a certain frame of mind and did not want to distract, rather interrupt myself. During the shooting, I stopped talking to Boneyji. I would wish him good morning and good night and that’s the only conversation I had with him. I was completely detached from my family though sub-consciously I was there with them. For this role, moving out of the family zone was very important because the emotions were sombre and the feel was about a weather-beaten woman coerced into making difficult choices.”
At one level, playing the lead protagonist came easily to Sridevi. “I am a mother and I knew exactly what the character was going through. I could relate to her innate strength. Devoted to her children, she could go to any extent for their sake. That familiarity was there. The basics of my real self and Devaki are the same, especially when there is a teen daughter involved. The dialogues and concerns are simple and very real. The mother asks her daughter if her mobile is charged before she goes out with her friends, if the driver has been told about picking her up and so on. You are concerned about your child’s security and at the same time you want her to enjoy life, hang out with her peers. This dilemma is very typical of mothers of this generation,” she says.
The unfamiliar terrain for Sridevi was the troubled and layered relationship between her character and her onscreen daughter played by Sajal Ali. “This was something I couldn’t relate to as my personal life is really different. My daughters and I, we are like friends. We share everything and even bully my husband. Even the smallest things, like sitting at the dining table and having a chat on any subject under the sun, are really essential for us as a family. And I am glad our children want to spend time with us in a digitally-obsessed society. These are small things but are very important for mutual bonding. I am quite a different person at home. They say I am funny.”
Talking about her onscreen daughter Sajal, Sridevi turns a lot mushy. “Oh we became really close and I do miss her a lot now that we are promoting the film. She plays a really important role and I don’t think any other actor could have done justice to it. She is unbelievable and the surprise element of the film. She is a beautiful, talented and a natural actress. We auditioned many girls but somehow none of them fit the requirements. We went to Dubai and though we met her for the first time, I knew that we had found what we were looking for,” she tells us. That’s a great compliment for young Sajal, coming as it does from Sridevi, who went through the professional rigours of casting when she could have very well chosen her own daughter.
Talking about the similarity between Jhanvi and Sajal, Sridevi mentions how all the girls bonded during shooting breaks. “Both Jhanvi and Khushi started interacting with her and I feel that even though she is far away, she is my third child.”
Her fans and audience expected her to be up and about after the success of English Vinglish. But Sridevi took a longish break in between. “In between I did things that I enjoyed, like holidaying with my family and being in my zone, painting. Life is not about taking a break, it is about reprioritising goals at each stage. And I crave a normal life. Besides, it might seem long but I have been part of the process of MOM for over two years now. Even Gauri Shinde took two years to come up with Dear Zindagi after English Vinglish,” she reasons.
MOM happened quite by chance. “The story is by an eminent writer from the southern industry and at a casual meeting Boneyji asked him if he had had any new ideas. Then he narrated a brief about a mother-daughter relationship he had in mind. We both liked it and Boneyji asked him to develop it further. He then signed Ravi, a great visualiser and director with many plaudits. We were well-acquainted with his work and Boneyji was very clear about him helming this particular project. Ravi took two years to develop and flesh out the script. Then there were these special characters which we thought had to be played by particular actors. Having seen much of his work, we zeroed in on Nawazuddin Siddiqui and waited for him to get free of his commitments. We exclusively wanted Akshaye Khanna and he too came on board. Then, we looked for someone who would be suited to play my onscreen husband and at the same time be a fresh face. It was my daughter who showed me Adnanji’s photograph and told us he is a TV actor of repute. Casting the right artiste is essential for the success of a project. If you really want to make a sensible, sensititve and emotional movie, we have to take care of the details,” says the star, who has by now acquired the nitty gritties of every filmcraft there is.
MOM happens to be Sridevi’s 300th film and 2017 marks her 50th year in the industry. “I didn’t even realise that. It was my husband who told me that I had completed 300 films. My reaction was, ‘What? Three hundred films already?’ and when he said I had completed 50 years, I was like, ‘Don’t say it to anyone’ (laughs). I have lived and enjoyed my journey without really thinking about the numbers,” she says.
Considering there are more female-driven plots and content variations now than when she was battling formula to strike out with her versatile performances, Sridevi still feels the younger lot have it tougher. “The pressure is the same no matter which time period you are productive in. Today’s kids are very hard-working and have too much of a competition and expectation to deal with. I started out very young in the industry, was raw and learnt everything on the job, be it the nuances of acting, dancing or even horse-riding. You can’t just be ill-equipped these days. You have to know everything and the first impression is really essential. You can’t just take a chance, you have to be very sure,” she explains.
Still she has been called the last empress, lording over a spectrum from Sadma to Chaalbaaz, and making her mark with gritty performances, some of them differing double roles, as twins or as mother-daughter. Perhaps that soloist lastability is no longer possible. But Sridevi disputes the idea of the stardom associated with her. Rather she runs it down. “I believe everyone is special and each has her own stardom. Deepika, Priyanka, Alia, Kangana, Vidya Balan are so good and have managed to carve their own niches. Despite the competition. This in turn has generated the need for more content-driven exercises. This is what makes today’s times exciting for me. You are constantly reinventing yourself.” As for her own lookback, Sridevi says she has no regrets. “I am really grateful to my producers, directors and co-stars for enhancing my skills as an actor. Their films made me what I am today. Some films like Lamhe are really special and people still talk about it. I did have my doubts about the commercial acceptance of Lamhe as it was a little ahead of its time. But people loved it and appreciated it. Today, you would find a Lamhe DVD in many homes. Generations watch it together. So somewhere we achieved something with that film.” And that is something she hopes for now. To be peerless.
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