Sridevi: The darling of Telugu cinema
The writer reminisces about the actor's stellar career in Tollywood
"She had so many dreams in the film industry, and she tirelessly worked to achieve them all," says Jayasudha, about Sridevi, with whom she worked in 10 films. True to Jayasudha's words, films were Sridevi's life and love, and no wonder then this actor endeared herself to Telugu audiences so much. We too, after all, are defined by our boundless love for cinema. The Athiloka Sundari of our cinema, who passed away in the wee hours of Sunday in Dubai, has acted in around 300 films in total, of which almost a quarter were in Telugu.
Sridevi may have started her acting career in Tamil with Thunaivan (1969), but she went on to become a darling of Telugu audiences. In a long and illustrious career spanning decades, the versatile actor has worked with almost every Telugu star, including Krishna, Sobhan Babu, Krishnam Raju, Chandra Mohan, Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh, and yes, even with the legendary Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao.
Known for her inimitable style and grace in dance -- which perhaps was not more evident in any other industry than in Telugu films -- she was an actor directors believed to have the mettle to pull off a variety of roles. In an era when hero-centric films were the norm in Telugu cinema, her natural charm and charisma meant that she also made regular damsel-in-distress roles seem like a lot more.
Her remarkable portrayal as Malli, a teenage girl in director K Raghavendra Rao's Padaharella Vayasu, won her much acclaim and kickstarted her rise in the Telugu industry.
Though she went on to act with several top actors in Telugu cinema, she was especially known for her on-screen chemistry with superstar Krishna. Between 1979 and 1987, they had at least one film a year that turned out to be a superhit. They were naturally thought of as a hit pair and acted in as many as 29 films together. In 1982 alone, they had eight releases! Some of their biggest hits include Burripalem Bullodu, Pachani Kapuram, Vajrayudham, Ram Robert Rahim, and Kirayi Kotigadu.
Sridevi was also notable for her films -- seven in all -- with Sobhan Babu, of which the majority of them were hugely successful with urban audiences. They include Devatha, Mundadugu, Kartheeka Deepam, and Illalu.
She was especially known for her 'song acting' and was never one to shy away from sensuous dance numbers either. Songs like Aaku Chatu Pinde Tadise (Vetagadu, starring NTR) serve as testimony for her alluring presence. The masses lapped her up in films like Saradar Paparayudu, Gajadonga, Kondaveeti Simham, Bobbili Puli, and Justice Chowdary. Her films with the legendary Nageswara Rao -- like Premabhishekam, Prema Kanuka, and Sriranganeethulu -- also helped establish her as the number one heroine of her times.
In a way, she served as a bridge between the old and new generations -- especially in the 80s. It's a hallmark of her longevity that she acted with Nageswara Rao as a heroine, and went on to do the same with his son, Nagarjuna. Indeed, she can be said to have played a significant role in the rise of actors like Nagarjuna and Venkatesh, who had just started off in the 80s. Her portrayal of Satya (Kshana Kshanam, starring Venkatesh), a middle-class woman who lands in a tricky situation, is still thought to be among the best performances by a Telugu heroine.
Sridevi's impact on the career of Chiranjeevi too cannot be underplayed. Her performance in Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari as a celestial woman won critical and commercial acclaim. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the role was a literal interpretation of what she was in the hearts of Telugu audiences already.
She was on top of Telugu cinema till she decided to move to Hindi cinema, and even after she did it, continued to work in Telugu films. Her absence in Tamil and Malayalam films is notable after her switch to Bollywood, but not entirely here. It seems she loved us, as much as we did her.
The industry remembers
Tributes have been pouring in from all corners of the country for the much-loved Sridevi. Actor Chiranjeevi in his video message said that Sridevi’s demise was a great loss to the industry. Describing Sridevi as one of the greatest actors of the industry, actor Pawan Kalyan said her death has left a void in the industry.
I’m shocked and feeling sad to hear that Sridevi is no more. It’s a very unfortunate day for the nation to have lost such an incredibly talented star. As her co-star in Kshana Kshanam, every expression of hers still remains etched in my mind. Although she achieved fame and popularity at such a young age, she always remained humble and graceful. Her exemplary career is an inspiration for every newcomer wanting to be a part of the industry. God bless her soul and the family. I feel the pain with them. Sridevi will always be missed.
Chandra Mohan (Actor):
My eldest daughter is four-years-older to Sridevi and they were good friends. We used to stay in the same neighbourhood (T Nagar) in Chennai and she would often come to our house and play with my daughter. She acted with me as a child artiste in six films including Yashoda Krishna wherein she played Lord Krishna's role, while I played the role of Narada.
After she turned actress, we acted in several films including Padaharella Vayasu. I was always termed the lucky star for new heroines and that notion gained prominence after Sridevi became a successful actress. She is an eternal beauty, who was elegance-personified. She was one of the greatest actors of the country. She is dear to us and it’s a personal loss to our family.
C Ashwini Dutt (Producer):
Sridevi made her way into people’s hearts and remained there for five decades. I’ve produced six films with her under Vyjayanthi Movies and I can’t imagine my banner without her. As a producer, her films like Akhari Poratam and Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari (JVAS) proved hugely successful for us, and people enjoy watching them even today. After Savitri, she was the only actress I admired a lot and to me, she is a Mahanati (legend).
Her talent was phenomenal and every actor has a lot to learn from her commitment to her job. I always shared a great bond with her and we used to speak regularly over the phone. On my every trip to Mumbai, I used to meet her and similarly, she used to come calling during her visits to Hyderabad. I recall her talking about Jhanvi’s foray into cinema and we always discussed making a sequel to JVAS featuring her daughter and Ram Charan in the lead. She had no health issues and her demise is an irreparable loss to the film industry and nation. With a heavy heart, I feel she has left for her heavenly abode. I'll be in Mumbai to attend her last rites.
A Kodandarami Reddy (Director):
Sridevi always wanted me to debut in Bollywood but I couldn’t make it there owing to my hectic commitments in Telugu. I directed her in films like Ramarajyamlo Bheemaraju, Sri Ranga Neethulu, Kanchu Kagada, and Khaidi Rudraiah. She came forward to act and produce a film, Vajrala Donga, under my direction starring Chiranjeevi in 1987. The response to our film’s announcement was beyond our expectations. Unable to handle the pressure, I requested her to shelve the project and she obliged. She was a charismatic woman with a golden heart. She never thought twice about putting someone else's needs in front of hers.
Every time I went to meet her in Mumbai, she would get me South Indian food and insist that I taste everything. We really enjoyed each other's company. No words can truly express how heartbroken I’m. The news is still not sinking in and such a great actor can't be seen again. She reached sublime heights and her death has left a cinematic void that can never be filled.