(The following excerpt has been taken, with permission, from Chapter 6 – ‘Indian Goddess’ of the book ‘ Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess’ – written by Satyarth Nayak. Published by Penguin, the hardcover is 296 pages long and priced at Rs 376.)
(The sub-headings are not part of the book, and have been added by The Quint.)
It was in 1990 that Sridevi finally acquiesced to sign a film with Amitabh again. Prior to this, she had been refusing every project with the actor, standing by her decision that she would not be mere decoration in a Bachchan-starrer.
Shashi Kapoor had sought her for his big-budget fantasy Ajooba (1991) opposite Amitabh but the actress had not relented. Ramesh Sippy had managed to bring them together for ‘Ram Ki Seeta Shyam Ki Geeta’ because both had double roles but the film had got shelved.
Interestingly, the chartbusting song ‘Jumma Chumma’ had been originally created for this film and would have been picturized on Amitabh and Sridevi. With the film now abandoned, the song was later used in Hum (1991). Saroj Khan shares the idea behind the original number: ‘The sequence had Amitabh as a cop catching a pickpocket Sridevi red-handed. When she asks what she can bribe him with, he asks for a chumma.’ Several other films had been disbanded altogether because Sridevi was hardly interested in playing Big B’s leading lady.
How Big B Convinced Sridevi With a Truckload of Roses
But when producer Manoj Desai and director Mukul Anand conceived a magnum opus set in Afghanistan, it begged the magnificence of Sridevi. An epic of such scale needed the combined wattage of Amitabh and Sri. Bachchan himself was in a fix on how to get the actress onboard, when an opportunity presented itself.
Those days it was customary for film-makers to invite the industry and media and share rushes of their upcoming ventures. Boney Kapoor and Satish Kaushik held such an event where they screened Sridevi’s outstanding performance in the number ‘Dushman Dil Ka’ from ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’
Amitabh, present at this preview, was mesmerized. Satish shares: ‘Amit-ji kept asking me how Sri had managed at the beginning of the song to walk down that whole flight of stairs in dance motion in a single take without looking down. He later told me that he had even tried doing it at his home and failed.’
The next day, Bachchan sent a truckload of roses for Sridevi. Perhaps inspired by Rishi Kapoor in Chandni, he ensured that the truck made its way to where the actress was shooting.
Saroj Khan bears testimony as an eyewitness: ‘We were filming a song when the truck arrived. They made Sridevi stand near it and the whole carrier tilted over, showering roses on her. It was quite a visual.’ Sridevi must have been floored.
Headlines exploded about how the biggest actor had paid tribute to the biggest actress. Filmfare brought out a cover story with the tagline—‘How Amitabh Wooed Sridevi’. But the battle had only been half won.
An Unprecedented Demand
While Sridevi agreed in principle to star in the film, she laid down the condition that she would play both the roles of Amitabh’s wife and daughter. This was unprecedented!
Never had any heroine dared to demand a double role in a Bachchan film. The industry waited with bated breath; some even sniggered. But the actress knew her worth. The deal was struck. The makers sighed with relief and ‘Khuda Gawah’ went on the floors.
Years ago, she had played a small role in ‘Aakhree Raasta,’ where Bachchan had essayed father and son. Now opposite him in ‘Khuda Gawah,’ she was playing mother and daughter.
Bollywood gaped in disbelief. Sridevi had again achieved the impossible.
She had become the only leading lady to play a double role in a Big B film. Baradwaj Rangan gushes: ‘When had such a thing ever happened before? Sridevi redefined Bollywood by not just becoming the hero but by taking the very idea of the hero to another extreme altogether. The sheer number of double roles she got just proves the kind of command she had over the industry.’