The moment he heard that his favourite Bollywood actor, Sridevi, was no more, Swapan Kumar Mandal decided to book a ticket to Mumbai from Krishnanagar in West Bengal’s Nadia district. “It’s a 36-hour journey on the Howrah Mail, but I was certain that by the time I reach Mumbai, her body would as well. I knew I would get to see her,” said the 50-year-old. Mandal was among thousands of fans, across all class groups, who descended on the Celebration Sports Club (CSC) in Lokhandwala in suburban Mumbai Wednesday morning to pay their respects to Sridevi.
“I saw her dance in Himmatwala and lost my heart to her. I don’t care how the TV media portrayed her, I just know that we have lost a gem,” he said. The lying-in-state for fans to pay tributes before the final journey to the Seva Samaj Crematorium, Vile Parle, called for a collaboration between private security agencies and about 200 police personnel.
The 37-degree heat and haze appeared not to deter Mumbaikars or dampen the spirit of those such as Mandal, who had come from all parts of the country. Some came to say goodbye to a former neighbour. “I have three daughters and we used to live in Green Acres, where she lived as well. Two of my girls are friends with Jhanvi and Khushi, so I couldn’t not come,” said Naresh Punjabi, who held his Celebration Sports Club membership card out, just in case it would expedite his entry into the prayer hall. His friend, Hitu Shah, joined him and reminisced about watching Lamhe for the first time.
“It’s my favourite Sridevi movie, I loved the story,” said the 54-year-old realtor, just after handing her business card to somebody she overheard was looking to rent an apartment in the area. The line began over 500 metres before the Celebration Sports Club and continued for another 500m-600m inside the complex. In the prayer hall, the cloying smell of white tuberose flowers was everywhere; under a floral canopy lay Sridevi inside a glass casket.
She was only visible to those who were allowed access over the steel fence surrounding the canopy; the public could only make out the bright red of the Kanjeevaram saree Sridevi was draped in. In less than a minute, the fans who had queued up for a kilometre were out of the hall.
On the way out, several fans caused a commotion because they wanted to wait for a glimpse of Bollywood celebrities in the parking lot. “They have made money from us, I have the right to see them if I want to,” said a woman, who had made the trip from Sangli.