Yash Chopra’s 1989 film Chandni is a romantic ode dedicated to the beauty, charm, elegance and grace of Sridevi who had the audience mesmerised with her eyes, smile and her screen presence. On her 58th birth anniversary, here’s revisiting the film that changed the way Bollywood saw its heroines, and the impact of that can still be seen in Hindi films to this day. The actor passed away in 2018.
Chandni came at a time when Hindi cinema was not making many indulgent romantic films. For Yash Chopra too, this was his first foray into making a love story and even though love happened to be the main conflict of films like Silsila and Kabhi Kabhie, it was with Chandni that he rewrote the playbook of on-screen romance, which later became the Bible for filmmakers like Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra. In an earlier interview, Yash Chopra had revealed that he had initially thought of making Chandni with Rekha but quickly zeroed in on Sridevi to play the titular role.
Despite Rishi and Vinod’s presence in the film, it wholly belonged to Sridevi and the director’s vision. In fact, Chopra had shot a dramatic entry scene for Vinod Khanna but snipped it later as it seemed out of place. Chandni was even supposed to have a son after she marries Rohit, but that angle was dropped too. “I wanted a romantic film with beautiful music. I was sick of violence,” Chopra had said.
When Sridevi became Chandni, she took over the screen with such wholesome grace that it was just impossible to look away. She arrested the audience with her flowing sarees, and made the scenes that didn’t feature her look drab by comparison (looking at you, the bromance song “Tu Mujhe Suna”). While Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna were both accomplished actors, Chandni belonged to Sridevi. Since she was the title character here, every scene had her mention. It felt as if you were in a world that revolved only around Chandni but does not necessarily favour her, which makes you root for her every step of the way.
The 80s was probably not the most promising decade of Hindi cinema and unlike many of its contemporaries, Chandni took on a few risks. This was a film led by a female character who is strong enough to drive her life on her own but would be happy to accept a partner, if she finds the right man. When she falls in love with Rohit (Kapoor) in the first act of the film, her love is naive but by the time she meets Lalit (Khanna), she has grown to accept compatibility as another form of love. As she starts spending time with Lalit in the second half of the film, she appreciates his company, but even though she does not say it in as many words, it is evident that she is still hopelessly in love with Rohit. Her love is beyond reason, which is why when she chooses her man in the end, it does not come as a surprise.
As Chandni starts becoming an independent woman, she takes charge of her life. For someone who was not very adamant, Chandni has learnt to speak up for herself when it comes to drawing boundaries at work. When Lalit asks her to take on a few duties that don’t belong to her, she flatly refuses and does not compromise on her integrity.
For Chandni, Chopra roped in Bhanu Athaiya and Leena Daru for Sridevi’s costumes in this film, and the magic created by these masters celebrated Sridevi’s physical beauty in a way that soon became the standard in Hindi cinema.
In 1989, Sridevi was ruling the movies and she had big successes – first with Chandni and then with her double role in Chaalbaaz. Sridevi commanded the silver screen for decades but many still remember her as Bollywood’s Chandni.