Don’t Forget Sridevi’s Pioneering Work in Tamil & Regional Cinema

Bollywood may have appropriated Sridevi and given her an ‘H’, making her name ‘Shridevi’. But meet her Tamil side.

2 min read
Sridevi was both prolific and gorund-breaking in Tamil and Telugu cinema.

It was in Tamil cinema that Sridevi’s genius was nurtured and matured, writes Shaikh Aiyaz, in his column in The Indian Express.

Bollywood may have appropriated Shridevi (known down south as Sridevi) with Himmatwalas (1983) runaway success. But to limit Sridevi to a single language or region would put on display a lack of understanding of the phenomenon she was.

Some of the best movies of top male stars across Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam are with Sridevi playing the female lead. Regardless of the character she played, she would often surpass not just the acting ability, but also the charisma of the stars.

Heroine of Mysteries in Tamil Cinema

As Shaikh Ayaz notes, Directed by P Bharathiraja, 16 Vayathinile is billed as a cult classic of Tamil cinema, responsible for introducing realism and rural imagery in the Madras talkies.

Long before Anurag Kashyap brought the grim and violent life of serial killer Raman Raghav on Hindi film screens, Sridevi was part of a similar subject in Kollywood. P Bharathiraja’s Sigappu Rojakkal (1978) is about a twisted businessman who lures women and kills them. Haasan’s Dileep falls in love with the salesgirl Sarada (Sridevi) and marries her. Soon, she discovers his dark side and tries to escape. Interestingly, 1977’s Gayathri, too, features a perverted husband, this time played by Rajinikanth, who clandestinely films his wife Gayathri (Sridevi) in bed. Rajinikanth is a porn filmmaker out to exploit his beautiful wife.

In her Tamil output of the 70s, the young Sridevi was often faced with insurmountable odds and dire predicaments from which she has to find an escape route.

The Glamour of Telugu and the Arthouse Mollywood

Sridevi’s Telugu years were equally successful. She was just as much of a tour de force. Among others, she had the amusing honour of working both with the superstar A Nageswara Rao and his son Nagarjuna in hits like Premabhishekam and Govinda. In 1991, she teamed up with Ram Gopal Varma for Kshana Kshanam. The maverick RGV has admitted his fanboy love for the actress.

But in his star worship of Sridevi, he briefly touched upon an aspect of the “Goddess of Beauty” (his words) that forge Sridevi’s image as a rare star who inspires films and filmmakers even at her age. Both English Vinglish and the more recent Mom (incidentally, it released in four languages familiar to the actor, including Tamil and Telugu) were written especially for Sridevi.

The actress has also appeared in Malayalam cinema, debuting in Mollywood as an eight-year-old in Poompatta (1971). Interestingly, she worked with the late J Jayalalithaa in such Tamil multi-starrers as Nam Naadu and Kandhan Karunai. She also acted alongside Dr Rajkumar during her Kannada stint in the 70s.

Sridevi was already a top star before Bollywood came along to appropriate her, giving her a pan-India branding.

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