There were many Sridevis. There was, of course, the actual woman, who was reserved and spoke little. Then there were the avatars that we saw on screen, the most compelling encounters coming through the many dance numbers that she immortalised simply by being in them. She had the rare gift for conveying perfectly the mood of any song, says choreographer Saroj Khan, who worked with her in movies like Lamhe, Nagina and Mr India. “She could be funny, sexy, whatever the song demanded,” says Khan. Here is a by no means exhaustive list of our favourite avatars of Sridevi.
Two of the most loved songs featuring Sridevi are also the ones which are the best showcase of her unparalleled talent for sheer, joyous goofiness. In both Hawa hawai from Mr India and Na jaane kahan se aayi hai from ChaalBaaz, Sridevi mixes energetic dance moves with her personal style of physical comedy that involved fumbles and stumbles and a rapid-fire sequence of outrageous facial expressions. Witness the apologetic grimace as she turns around and accidentally slaps a back-up dancer in Hawa hawai, which is quickly succeeded by embarrassment and mischief, all in three seconds. And was there anyone else working in Indian cinema at the time who could have pulled off the silly umbrella twirling and break dancing of the ChaalBaaz song — all while wearing ridiculous overalls and a raincoat — and still come off as utterly loveable and charming?
The full force of Sridevi’s seductive powers was first felt in Jaanbaaz. It was only a guest appearance, with most of her screen-time going into the song Har kisiko nahi milta, in which she swayed on a beach, hair rippling in the sea breeze and chiffon sari hugging her curves. The seduction was turned up by several degrees in Kaatein nahi kat te in Mr India with the actor, once more draped in clingy chiffon, dancing with an abandon not seen before. Director Shekhar Kapur threw in some rain for good measure and in turn received the gratitude of a nation of dazed and sweaty-palmed men (and women, we’re sure).
With her saucer eyes and impish grin, no one did mischief better than Sridevi. Most of the songs in Chandni are a good showcase for how well she played the gamine, but watch her particularly in Mere haathon mein nau nau choodiya hain. The song is charged with energy, thanks to the leading lady’s antics. With her quicksilver moves and the rapid switches she made from insouciant to seductive to funny, Sridevi made the song a classic.
The Angry Goddess
Sridevi always cut a striking figure, but never more than when she was conveying rage through dance. The otherwise forgettable Roop ki Rani, Choron ka Raja will be remembered for the song Dushman dil ka. With her feet pounding the floor and her eyes staring daggers into the camera, the actor gave an electrifying performance that lifted the movie, if only for a few minutes. A similar rage was conveyed a few years earlier in Main teri dushman from Nagina, another fairly mediocre film that only lives on as a cult classic, thanks in large part to Sridevi’s convincing Danse Macabre as the snake who is furiously trying to throw off the power exerted on her by the evil sapera (Amrish Puri) and his minions.