Indo-Caribbeans and the World Mourn Superstar Sridevi

Sridevi dominated the Indian cinema screen in Hindi and several South languages during the late 1970s, 1980s and part of the 1990s.

By Vishnu Bisram in Bollywood

The Indo-Caribbean diaspora join other Indians around the world in mourning the loss of Bollywood superstar actress Sridevi who passed away last Saturday evening by accidental drowning in a hotel in Dubai.

Sridevi’s death is described by fans as a mystery and many find it unbelievable — first it was reported she died by cardiac arrest and later by drowning. Hundreds of thousands thronged sidewalks to catch a glimpse of her funeral cortege. Her body arrived in Mumbai on Tuesday night and she was cremated on Wednesday evening.

Sridevi dominated the Indian cinema screen in Hindi and several South languages during the late 1970s, 1980s and part of the 1990s. She also spoke English. She was a legend, incomparable to any other actor; she sold movies on her own ability and talent. Almost everyone was a blockbuster. Sridevi literally had tens, if not hundreds, of millions of fans in India and globally including virtually the entire Indo-Caribbean diaspora. She was an idol among Indo-Caribbeans. The Indo-Caribbean diaspora was quite disturbed in shock when the learned about her passing. They were in disbelief as I learn from conversations with Indians in New York, Canada, Trinidad, Holland, Guyana, and elsewhere.

I picked up from media comments and from conversations in Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh that Indians are quite upset and heartbroken that she is no more. Like Indo-Caribbeans, they describe her as their Rani and media headlines so describe her. If one looks at the latest video of her in Dubai, she looks like she is in her 30s. She was smashing and ravishing.

I was at Ahmedabad (Gujarat, home state of Gandhi-ji) where I presented a paper on Indian cultural persistence in Guyana and the Caribbean at the Central University) at the airport waiting to board a flight to Mumbai (city of Bollywood) when I received a phone call from my sister in New York querying whether it is true that legendary Bollywood actress Sridevi had passed away. She, like myself and Indo-Caribbean, is a fan of Sridevi. Many Indo-Caribs named their daughter (including one of my nieces and my friends daughters in NYC) after Sridevi. My sister and others had gotten the news from a radio station in NYC that the actress collapsed and died in Dubai. They got the news before I did in India because it happened in the middle of the night in Dubai when the rest of India slept. From the airport to my hotel in Juhu, a community of prominent Bollywood personalities with about the highest real estate value in all of India, sulking faces were glued to TV and radio as they learn of Sridevi’s death. The Sunday print media had not as yet carried the news of her death as it happened late Saturday night. Every TV and radio interrupted regular broadcasts to focus on the life of the actress; switching TV channels and they were all on Sridevi in this film crazed city of Mumbai. Coverage of Sridevi’s death and clippings of her legendary performance continued all day Sunday thru Wednesday. The funeral procession was carried live on TV. Teary eyed people watch the news at the Marriott hotel. She was the talk among every Indian.

Bollywood personalities, politicians, and film fans paid tribute to the iconic actress on TV. It was the talk among people on the streets, on Juhu Beach, at markets and stores, and off course among staff and guests at the hotel. Sridevi’s husband Boney Kapoor has a home in Juhu. Bollywood erdsonalities and politicians came to the home of Anil Kapoor to pay respects. Sridevi has two step sons and one step daughter who are actors including the popular Arjun Kapoor. She has two daughters from Boney. Thousands gathered at the airport at every rumur that her body was arriving. Finally, thousands came to catch a glimpse of her casket. Her remains were to be cremated in Juhu but it was shifted to Andheri, another Bollywood residential community. Tens of thousands also gathered in front of her home in Bandra, another community of Bollywood personalities from Sunday thru Tuesday. There were live feeds on Tv from the airport to her home and to the cremation ground. There were many TV cameras and live satellite dishes mounted on vans at the airport.

Sridevi is not just any actress. She had a most illustrious acting career with beauty incomparable to any other personality. She was a staple on the screen for many of us who watched Bollywood films in the Indian diaspora. She acted in 300 films and against every big male star.

She was known for her versatility and multi-lingual ability. She made her debut in Madrassi films before joining mainstream Bollywood. She became perhaps the most popular actress in Bollywood and in the southern film industries of Tollywood, Mollywood and Kollywood, all nicknamed after large Telugu, Malyalam, and Kerala languages respectively. Although a Madrassi, she is loved all over India by hundreds of millions including the Indian diaspora in Guyana and the US and among Indo-Caribbean people. She was an incredible actress. I reviewed her films for New York Indian community newspapers during the 1980s.

Sridevi is loved by audiences in the North (such as UP, Bihar, Delhi, etc.) and the South (Mumbai, Madras, Hyderabad, etc.). Anyone who watched Bollywood films from the late 1970s would have seen Sridevi. She was cast against the most popular male actors including Jeetendra, Amitabh, Dharmender, Mithun, Anil kapoor, etc. Shridevi had a most commanding presence in her films.

Producers and Directors said they loved working with her. They did not have to give her much instructions on a scene. She knew exactly what to do. Repeated filming of a scene was not necessary. She normally got it right very quickly. She started acting at age 4 and had no schooling. By age 16. She was a hit. She was the most sought after actress in the 1980s before her marriage to a Bollywood film producer Boney Kapoor.

I had the opportunity to meet Sridevi during the 1980s in New York at a press conference for the India Day parade that would attract tens of thousands of Indo-Caribbeans. She was stunningly beautiful – one of the most beautiful women I ever met. In person, she had a very warm, pleasant personality. She smiled a lot. And yes, she knew she had fans in Guyana and the Caribbean though. She said she would have liked to visit the Caribbean to perform but never had the time. That dream was not fulfilled. She was always busy with acting and being a wife and a mother.

Her death has shocked the Indian film fraternity and politicians. Tributes poured in from collaborators and filmmakers to admirers of her acting and her work ethic. As one tribute noted, “Her beguiling eyes, scintillating screen presence and acting prowess made her one of the most sought-after artistes in the Hindi film industry”. She was also an excellent dancer of the classical and filmi types.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “he was deeply saddened by the untimely demise of Sridevi. She was a veteran of the film industry, whose long career included diverse roles and memorable performances. May her soul rest in peace”. She had “grace, guts, and glory”, said one fellow actor. Another said she “was an inspiration for so many young women and men. Long live her legacy”. “She was a superstar, much admired’, wrote another. There were also tributes from the President of India, Chief Ministers, Ministers, Mayors and other actors including the great Amitabh and Jeetendra. Mayor Sadiq Khan of London also paid tribute to her. There was not one person who did not have something positive to say about Sridevi.

She was one of the best actresses in the business pushing aside Hema Malini, Rekha, Madhuri Dixit who at one time also dominated the screen. As movie critics commented, she could make a film a commercial success. She had a vast repertoire of skills. She was a professional in every sense of the term. For her acting talent, she was honored by the Indian Government with a coveted Padma Shree award given to a select few.

Sridevi will be missed on the screen.