Sridevi was introduced to me by my mother. Paranthaalum Vidamaadden from Guru (1980) was playing on the television. “She is Kamal Hassan’s best onscreen pair,” I was told. The song is about the persistence of Kamal’s character to win over Sridevi, who loathes the very sight of his existence. The sequence is set mid-air, with Kamal, and Sridevi flying in different aircrafts. Their headphones are paired and the exchange between them is back and forth. They also have a clear vision of each other as they can catch even the smallest facial expressions made during the course of the song. All this is happening while, let’s say, the flight is at an altitude of 20000-25000 ft. Looking back at the song choreography, we can see how it defies basic logic and technology. But, back in the day, it inspired amusement from the viewers. This is what Kamal and Sridevi’s combination was capable of doing. They could make audience buy anything. Well, they weren’t only selling empty calories through their performances, they encouraged the Tamil audience, who were only fed on masala films, to appreciate slow cinema.
In Moondram Pirai (1982), Sridevi’s Viji suffers from a memory disorder that makes her behave like a child. Kamal’s Cheenu saves her from a prostitute racket and becomes her guardian. Nobody other than Sridevi could have made the audience take Viji seriously. It would have mostly been a disaster for other actors. But, Sridevi makes us emotional and invest in a character, which is largely used for comic purposes in commercial films even today. And the presence of Kamal added weight to the narration.
Sridevi and Kamal as a couple were electrifying on the big screen. They both brought the best out of each other. Their performance in Sippi Irukkuthu song in Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu (1980) sums up how they complemented each other. In that song, Sridevi challenges Kamal to come up with apt lyrics to the tunes she sings. The competition is cut-throat. One pushes the other to do better. And it eventually ends with them expressing mutual respect and love they have for each other.
The iconic journey that began with Moondru Mudichu in 1976 continued for over a decade until the late 80s. They both together appeared in 27 films including, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi. The Sridevi and Kamal Jodi will remain iconic and irreplaceable for generations.