(This is a repost from The Quint’s archives. It was originally published on 24 February 2018.)
“When Nagina, the movie, released, I was young and impressionable. I witnessed Sridevi break into a ‘naagin dance’ when Amrish Puri aka the ‘Snake Charmer’ had come to disarm her. Her dance unconsciously portrayed my angst. I was mad at the world for trying to condition me. I was more than just a man. My feminine side wanted to be like her,” said Harish Iyer, remembering Sridevi as the only actor who portrayed the dilemma of the Queer community.
Veteran actor Sridevi passed away on Saturday night in Dubai due to accidental drowning in a bath tub. And while her unexpected demise is being mourned country-wide, the Indian gay community seems inconsolable. They have lost a hero, an artist, a star who unconsciously helped them deal with their dilemmas.
Her depiction of ‘characters in conflict’ represents the Queer community’s tribulations. None of her characters were ever black and white, and that’s what gave us confidence to be different, to like different things.Adds Iyer
Sridevi has been a loved actor and a national favourite for over 50 years. However, her popularity among the Indian queer community is lesser known.
I remember breaking into a ‘naagin’ dance as a child; I would make my cousins stand in a line to do the typical ‘Sridevi Naagin’ moves around them. It was strangely liberating. I channelised my inner serpent; that which said that I was different.Inderjit
Sridevi started acting at the tender age of four. Although she compromised on her education, she educated herself on film sets and modeled herself as the ‘woke’ actor of her time. She effortlessly played roles that spoke to every community. Her movies may or may not have worked at the box office, but her characters were never without depth.
Anju of Chaalbaaz was the docile, demure woman being wronged at the hands of cruel foster parents. Her twin sibling Manju, on the other hand, was the street-smart, gaudy version of Anju. She wouldn’t take nonsense from anyone. The dichotomy touched me. Manju was the loud version of real me. The ‘me’ that only came out when I was alone or with the Queer community. Else, I am the Anju that is living in pain everyday.Vinit, name changed
Sridevi’s unconscious portrayal of the ‘conflict’ found resonance among the Queer community. It was probably first of the very few attempts that Bollywood has ever made to portray angst, confusion and dilemma in an unbiased way. Sridevi probably realised that very early on in her career and used the ‘grey’ character persona is all her movies.
She was the obedient yet ‘shamelessly’ greedy wife in Judaai. She was the child stuck in an adult’s body in Sadma, and in English Vinglish, she was a mother who pined to know a language that eluded her, yet maintained a critical perspective throughout the learning process.
Sridevi’s characters were never passive. She was always active. Even if her characters were not central to a movie, she would leave an indelible mark, and that’s what stayed with me.Praful, a member of the Queer community
Her feminine side was what many members of the community related to.
Her ‘Hawa Hawaai’ act was loud, brazen, but at no point was it obnoxious. And that’s what I wanted myself to mould into.Praful
Why was only Sridevi able to achieve this with the community? Why not a Madhuri Dixit or a Hema Malini? Pat comes the reply:
Sridevi was in a league of her own. She was an actor par excellence. Playing characters in a dilemma came as second nature to her. She didn’t force herself into becoming an idol for us. She depicted what we go through. And when I saw it for the first time, it blew me away. It reassured me, told me that it is okay to be in a spot of bother.Praful
In her third-last movie, English Vinglish, she admonishes her fellow batch-mates for making fun of their tutor who identified himself as gay. She very aptly said:
Love should be universal for all. Who the person loves shouldn’t be anyone’s concern. Love, after all, is the most beautiful expression and everyone must have access to it.
Sridevi was an icon for the previous generation and will be an icon for generations to come. He work has been emulated by young actors and she has inspired budding filmmakers. Yash Chopra called her a ‘director’s dream’, and Sridevi was indeed a viewer’s dream too.
For all that she has done for the industry and for the Queer community, we salute her.
Rest in Power, Sridevi!
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