Millennial Review: Sridevi at Her Absolute Best in ‘Sadma’
(Nandakumar is 21 years old and watched ‘Sadma’ for the first time in 2019)
Sridevi’s performance as the child-woman Reshmi in Sadma, is considered to be one of her finest, and as I finished the film I would second that. My introduction to Sridevi though happened quite late with 2012’s English Vinglish, as the housewife struggling with her lack of knowledge of English. I remember being sucked into her performance and wanted to look at her other work, but more on that later.
In Sadma which is a remake of the Tamil film Moondram Pirai, Sridevi plays a woman suffering from retrograde amnesia as a result of an accident and displays child-like behaviour. Her lack of awareness leads her to a brothel. from where she is rescued by Somu a kind hearted teacher played by Kamal Haasan.
The highlight of the Balu Mahendra directorial for me was the tender relationship between Haasan and Sridevi. Haasan played a man that was sensitive, emotional and caring. At a time in the 80’s (and even now to a large extent), when most movies were cluttered with these macho men beating up a hundred guys, here is a character who is endearing-and without trying to hard at that.
Both characters have some adorable moments, like the one where Reshmi asks Somu, what a camel is. He tries to explain it to her, but fails as he realises that she's merely imitating what he said. Or that scene, where Reshmi spots an ice-cream vendor and grabs two cones, Sonu just looks at her endearingly ignoring her callousness.
Of course now in retrospect, there are some things that seem cringe-worthy and in certain portions comical- particularly Somu’s track with Silk Smitha. She played the wife of Somu’s headmaster, and almost every line she uttered was in a seductive tone(replete with the oohs and the aahs), but I’m not surprised they kept that considering the rage she was at that time. She says in one scene, “There’s a fire in me, itni garmi mein thand kahan.” Also funnily, there’s always this English song that plays when Silk Smitha appears, probably to associate her with the stereotype of an ‘openly sexual’ Western culture?
What’s good though, are the dialogues. One of the main reasons I find it hard to connect with old Hindi movies is because of the exaggerated dialogue delivery and the over dramatisation .(All the ‘mujhe bachaooo’, and ‘mere paas maa hai’ variety) But the interactions between Somu and Reshmi seem real and relatable.
So is the music, and for a change is very well integrated to the story. I didn’t feel like forwarding the songs, because I realised they were taking the story ahead. Whether it’s the hummable “Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le” or “Ek Dafa Ek Jungle Tha”, the soundtrack continues to live on.
But Sadma soars because of it’s leads. Kamal Haasan has such expressive eyes, that I couldn’t help but invest in him. He moves so effortlessly from caring to comic to serious. One moment he’s teaching Reshmi how to drape a saree, another he’s playing a monkey to entertain her and in another scene enraged by her childishness. But through it all his affection, and unflinching love for her comes across.The climax for me was the most heart-breaking (Spoiler Alert), when Reshmi is finally cured but fails to recognize Somu as she loses her immediate memories. Somu chases the train on which Reshmi leaves, trying every way to remind her but he is now alien to her.
Haasan’s calm demeanour was the perfect foil to Sridevi’s playfulness, which brings me to her performance. She plays the childlike Reshmi to perfection, getting even the smallest details right. Kids are clumsy and unaware, and you see that in Reshmi.
Going back to what I had said earlier, I had barely watched Sridevi’s films until I saw English Vinglish. She had left the movies, even before I was born. I had seen Mr India as a child, but wasn’t aware enough for her performance to really register. I went back and watched Lamhe, Chaalbaaz and Chandni, and realised that there’s no one quite like her. Her impeccable comic timing aided by her chameleon like quality won me over. Sridevi’s untimely death came as a shock to most people, and the fact remains that she was an enigma. She barely spoke to the media and was very shy, but who cares when for those two hours that you watch her movie you’re swept away by the magic of Sridevi.