‘Sridevi Helped Me Battle Sexual Abuse... Now My Manju is Gone’

Harish Iyer on how watching Sridevi on screen as he grew up helped shape him as a person.

Published
Indian Cinema
3 min read

Video Editor: Vatsala Singh

Iconic Bollywood actor Sridevi passed away early on 25 February. “News of her death has left me broken,” Harish Iyer said, as he reminisced about his favourite actor. In a video conversation with The Quint, the LGBT rights activist opened up about how watching Sridevi on screen as he grew up helped shape him as a person.

I used to fight with my friends if they said anything nasty about Sridevi or her accent in films. 
Harish Iyer

Taking a Cue From Manju in ‘ChaalBaaz’

In Pankuj Parashar’s 1989 film ChaalBaaz, Sridevi played a double role — that of a shy Anju and a feisty Manju who stood up to a patriarchal world. “Telling the patriarchal world that I have my stand, my stance and I will stand by it. I cannot be dominated by men. I related to that because my life was being dominated by men,” he says.

In Pankuj Parashar’s 1989 film ChaalBaaz, Sridevi played a double role — shy Anju and a feisty Manju.
In Pankuj Parashar’s 1989 film ChaalBaaz, Sridevi played a double role — shy Anju and a feisty Manju.
(Photo Courtesy: Film screengrab) 
Even though, I didn’t remember my abuse. I remembered how it felt like to be tortured, abused, and raped. All I wanted was a Manju in my life. That Manju is Sridevi. 
Harish Iyer

On Sridevi as a Queer Icon

“Her dialogue “love toh love hota hai na” from English Vinglish is one of the simplest things ever. You don’t need to understand what homosexuality is, you just need to understand what love is,” he says.

“When I told her that she had a huge fan following in the LGBT community, she was baffled because she did not know what LGBT was. I explained it to her and she understood me”.

“At the Satyamev Jayate shooting, she came up on stage and told me I was a hero. It broke me. It took time to digest. I was overwhelmed that day. People have dreams and fantasies. For me, that was beyond a dream. I never thought it would be a reality,” he says.

‘I Yearned to Be Her’

A still from the film Sadma. 
A still from the film Sadma. 
(Photo: Cinestaan)

Iyer recalled Sadma (1983), the remake of the Tamil movie Moondram Pirai, starring Kamal Haasan and Sridevi that saw her in the iconic role of Nehalata, a woman who regresses into childhood after a head injury. Iyer says Sridevi’s innocence in Sadma reminded him of the innocence that was stolen from him as someone who was sexually abused as a child.

“In Sadma, the way she forgets all that Kamal Haasan had done for her. The last scene when she completely forgets. I related to that so much. Forget forgetting, I was trying to remember. My memory was giving up. I couldn’t remember the sequence of things happening to me. Though she was ruthless, I related to her,” he says.

I yearned to be a kid like Sridevi. I yearned to be innocent, because that’s what I had lost.

“Remember Lamhe? I’ve known her since before I turned seven. When I was abused at the age of 7, I realised I needed a parallel reality, like all of us do. A reality we can migrate to when we are distressed and can’t seem to find any solutions,” Iyer says.

Harish Iyer got a chance to meet Sridevi on the sets of Satymev Jayate. 
Harish Iyer got a chance to meet Sridevi on the sets of Satymev Jayate. 
(Photo: Screengrab)

“This is how she has influenced my life. By being a mirror to me. By reflecting to me what I was reflecting within. By being an alternate reality that was more close to reality,” he says.

I saw a star falling onto earth. Now it has gone back to the skies. And there will never be a star like Sridevi.
Harish Iyer

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