One can only wonder what would have happened had Vijay’s Puli (2015) met all the expectations it had set for itself seven years ago. Apart from encouraging the Tamil star to pursue more such experimental movies, it would have also done another favour to Tamil cinema fans – it would have revived Sridevi’s old tryst with Kodambakkam. Puli was Sridevi’s first full-fledged Tamil film in about three decades. After doing a gamut of roles in Tamil, the 16 Vayathinile actor bid adieu to Tamil cinema and shifted her focus towards Bollywood. However, as the cliched adage goes, something is better than nothing. The iconic actor left the Tamil audience with Puli’s Yavana Rani (an evil queen and sorceress) as a parting gift.
One has to partly thank director Chimbu Deven for bringing her back to Tamil cinema. In a brief chat with indianexpress.com, Deven shares his experience of working with Sridevi. “I wrote the role based on Tamil writer Sandilyan’s novel. That’s why I named the character after the book. I was looking for someone middle-aged for the role, and I couldn’t have come up with a better choice. We first decided to tell the story to her and decide things later.”
Sridevi was basking in the success of her film English Vinglish (2012) when Puli came her way. She hadn’t taken up any project in three years, and the Vijay-starrer was a unique choice of the actor. “When I met her in Mumbai, I was surprised to see how updated she was with the current trend, and I think she found the script and her role to be unique. Guess, that’s the reason she agreed to do the film straight away. I still remember our meeting where she was extremely candid. It was nice to hear her Tamil again.”
When asked what’s his memorable moment from working with Sridevi, Chimbu Deven recounts an incident, when the actor surprised him with her impeccable work ethic. “She belongs to the former generation of actors with great professional ethics. She was always on the sets a bit early. She had to wear contact lenses for the role, and they stayed on for hours. Once it led to an infection and Sridevi had to seek medical help and was in the hospital for two days. Yet, she had no qualms about it, and was back on the sets in no time!”
Chimbu added, “When we suggested we can use a dupe for the climax fight sequence between her and Vijay, she wanted to do most of the stunts herself, and only left highly risky acts to the dupe.”
It was rumoured that Rajamatha Sivagamidevi’s role in Baahubali was offered to Sridevi, who chose Puli over SS Rajamoul’s film. When asked about the same, the Puli director said, “I think it is a choice an actor makes based on what they think is right for them. I think she liked her role in Puli. However, I haven’t personally asked her about her decision or Baahubali offer.”
On a concluding note, Chimbu Deven said, “It is an honour that I got to direct her last Tamil film. One thing I really admired about her was that she had a lot of humility. Even when she was on the clock, she would treat her fans with respect. I have seen her patiently take pictures with thirty fans in a row without losing her cool. It is a tremendous loss for our cinema.”
On the work front, Chimbu Deven last directed a segment named Kottai Paaku Vathalum Mottai Maadi Sitharum in the anthology film Victim. It is currently streaming on SonyLIV.