Ms. Representation: Shehzadi of Dreams
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week we remember Sridevi through her iconic songs
If like me, you think of songs as an important aesthetic that make or break the film experience, this list is for you. It’s of my favourite songs, not in the kitschy, retro cool, ha-ha can-you-believe-this, way but in a way that tugs at something deep. Even though it comes from ‘mainstream cinema’. And the one thing that all the songs in this week’s column have in common is of course the Khwabon ki Shehzadi (Princess of Dreams), Sridevi whose ‘comeback’ with English Vinglish held a sweet promise of something more magical, only to tragically be broken.
Her oeuvre transcended lanoguage, aesthetic, genre, and of course, time. And through all this work, nowhere is the sheer joy of watching Sridevi in front of a camera more palpable than when watching her in songs. Owning the space. Daring everyone else on screen to upstage her. Bringing something very genuine, a version of a woman who is ‘in on it’ with you; who could break the illusion of it all very easily by looking like one thing (drop-dead gorgeous) and playing something else altogether (the fool) – winking, making faces, connecting with you almost instantly because how could someone who had such comic timing be anything but accessible? And it was Sridevi who brought this winking, comedic, one-of-us but looks like a goddess, aesthetic to songs… Of course that isn’t the only thing she did. In everything that came after Sridevi, so far as the ‘heroine’ staples would be concerned her contribution would remain… In Dhak Dhak Karne Laga, is it even possible to not see traces of Kate Nahin Kat Te? Funnily enough in the Telugu version of Dhak Dhak, Sridevi stars, again in a different aesthetic.
Now, on to the list…
In this classic duet, from Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, Sridevi dressed in a yellow chiffon saree, her hair in a no-nonsense bun, sitting on a rock, is a vision of simplicity. And yet, it is impossible to take your eyes off her. And this song captures her on-screen spirit oh-so-perfectly. Now thoughtful, now innocent, now loving, now playful…
Vasantha Kaala Nadhigaliley
As far as iconic songs go, this one’s pretty much right there at the top. Sridevi, Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth on a boat – and the range a young Sridevi displays in this 1976 K. Balachander film song is impressive. At the beginning of the song is youth, ignorance, love, and then… horror and finally, anger when it dawns on her that she is being hunted… Complete with that typical Balachander-sque exaggerated gestures, head shakes, and expressions. Vani Jayaram’s singing is of course a delightful bonus.
Kaatril Endhan Geetham
For an entire generation of women, Sridevi as Archana in Mahendran’s Johny was the ideal to look up to. Her clothes, the way she held herself, her restraint and abandon… The movie and Sridevi bestowed dignity on the rare onscreen woman who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to ask. This iconic song, Kaatril Endhan Geetham, with rains lashing and Rajinikanth as Johny, the conman, in love with Archana, and yet reticent, running in the rains to make it to her concert is here as much for nostalgia as it is for a rare, well-written onscreen woman who’s very ‘together’.
Clichés are clichés for a reason. Sridevi in Moondram Pirai had the role of a lifetime. Growing up, I read a lot of interviews by actresses. And whenever any heroine was asked which role they wished they had done, pat would come the answer – Sridevi in Moondram Pirai. And this one song, Kannadasan’s last song, the lullaby that her co-star said in a recent interview was ringing in his ears upon hearing of her death, Kanne Kalaimane captures that role – Lakshmi – spectacularly, and can you take your eyes off her?
Khwabon ki Shehzadi
This song has been reinvented and re-used quite a few times in Bollywood recently. And yet, the original remains a favourite, untainted. Because again, in this song is a Sridevi bursting with Sridevi-ness. She’s sexy, she’s funny, she’s got a trick up her sleeve and just when you let your guard down, she will take you down. Mr India’s Sridevi is a part of many childhoods and Ms Hawa Hawaii will stay immortalised in that world.
From Ram Gopal Varma’s Kshana Kshanam, if you haven’t seen Sridevi in this song, I urge you to. And if you have, you know why it’s here. It is vintage Sridevi – there’s all that gesturing, eye rolling, winking, jumping, looking fabulous, humour, innocence… And she sings too. Very badly. And it is fun.