Indian Cinema’s Finest Pair: Sridevi and Kamal Haasan

Sridevi and Kamal Haasan shared a bond that went beyond on-screen chemistry. 

4 min read
A still from <i>Moondram Pirai </i>(remade to <i>Sadma, </i>one of Sridevi’s best).

The last movie that Kamal Haasan and Sridevi starred together in was Oka Radha Iddaru Krishnulu, 30 years ago.

It was the last time Indian cinema saw such a talented male and female lead on the same screen. Sadma was not the last word in Sridevi’s acting career. It was closer to her beginnings as an adult actor. She was barely twenty years old then.

Kamal Haasan and Sridevi acted in 21 movies together, between 1976 (Moondru Mudichu) and 1986 (Oka Radha Iddaru Krishnulu).

And within this short span of time, they grew to become what is still considered the most versatile, and talented pair to ever grace the silver screen.

From the Hindi Sadma, to a naughty/crass Telugu Oka Radha..., to a brilliantly evocative Malayalam Nirakudam, to the iconic Tamil classic Varumayin Niram Sivappu, the duo has given Indian cinema an entire gamut of films.

“She is like a sponge,” K Balachander had said in an interview decades ago.

What K Balachander meant by that was that she picked up the art of acting on set. This was during Moondru Mudichu, a film which featured both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. That is how it was through the late seventies and the 80s.

The Superstar (Rajini) and Universal Hero (Kamal) of today, were KB Sir’s (K Balachander) proteges. Invariably, Rajini would play the bad guy, and Kamal the hero, one bringing in style, and the other, an idiosyncrasy unique to the character. The duo was a hit, money making formula, though it must be stated that KB’s films were anything but formulaic.

Moondru Mudichu (1976) happened before director Bharathiraja’s 16 Vayathinile (at the age of 16). It was Sridevi’s debut in an adult role.

She was 14 years old when 16 Vayathinile was released, not 16. Sridevi acts as a village belle who believes she is destined for life and love in the city. She ultimately marries Sappani, played by Kamal, who is the village idiot.

Sappani’s character is out of the ordinary, and lends itself to over-the-top treatment. Sridevi’s role on the other hand, required the understanding of a 16-year-old, and then of a married woman. Sridevi brought both onto the screen, much to Bharathiraja’s delight.

Despite this early evidence of Sridevi’s genius as an artist, Moondru Mudichu surprised film critics and audience alike, thanks to the way she handled a character so out of the ordinary, that it wouldn’t have been believable, were it not a part of a KB film.

Sridevi played a young woman in her twenties (she was still 13 at the time), who was in love with Kamal, but was harassed by Rajinikanth. Eventually, out of spite and to protect herself from Rajinikanth’s leching, she marries Rajinikanth’s father (don’t ask)!

In the film, Sridevi had to deal with ‘children’ almost her age, and with Rajinikanth, her ‘step-son’. Compared to her interactions with Rajinikanth, Aishwarya’s Rai’s face-off with her step-son in Devdas is tame at best.

To respond to unreal emotional situations at such a young age, with such maturity, is an unsung quality. KB’s films were famous for leaving the audience depressed and in tears in the 70s and 80s. Imagine what it would have been like to have acted in one.

Kamal Haasan and Sridevi in <i>Pattabhishekam </i>(1982).
Kamal Haasan and Sridevi in Pattabhishekam (1982).
(Photo Courtesy: Old Malayalam Cinema)

Kamal, the Mentor

KB would often ask Kamal to babysit Sridevi, who did his part in moulding the actress in her. To call it on-screen chemistry would be to limit the number of strings that connect the two, to just one.

It was a time when the Tamil film industry was nothing short of cruel to its female actors, and was an arid landscape of continual shooting, where the entire crew sacrificed their personal lives in a bid to make it big.

Kamal mentored Sridevi. They were also great friends who would confide, and find support in each other. It was also Kamal’s favourite pastime to tease her on the sets.

Which is why a hug they shared decades after they last met became a poignant moment, which Kamal shared in his vlog on his co-actor’s demise.

Kamal Haasan and Sridevi at a fete.
Kamal Haasan and Sridevi at a fete.
(Photo Courtesy: Dewdrop)
The kind of dedication she had, truly matched mine. That is why we liked each other so much. 
Kamal Haasan

Coming from anyone else, this statement would be considered narcissistic. But Kamal Haasan is a child of the silver screen and is made up of everything that lies behind it. To consider Sridevi his equal is a true testament to her craft.

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