‘50 Years? I feel like a newcomer every time!’

Sridevi talks to Preeja Aravind about being an actress for 50 years, doing 300 films across languages, being a mother and a celebrity. Her latest film Mom is out in theatres today

She is one of the most glamorous actresses Indian cinema has seen, who first acted in a film at the age of four. But when I met her for a brief tête-à-tête, Sridevi was as elegant as ever—without any airs of being an industry veteran. For an actress, Sridevi seemed to be quite uneasy with all the attention that was been showered on her.

Sridevi the person is all about family. Titles don’t matter to her when it comes to her personal life. She is unapologetic about her choices—she withdrew from the limelight at the peak of her acting career. In 1997, Kaun Saccha Kaun Jhoota became her last released film. Her other film that year, Judaai, garnered her nominations for Best Actress at Filmfare Awards, Screen Awards and Zee Cine Awards.

Seven-year sabbatical

And she was not to be seen on the big screen for the next seven years, till Meri Biwi Ka Jawaab Nahi: The movie, however, had been shot 10 years before — in 1994. She did make a small-screen comeback with Malini Iyer, a television series about a Tamilian woman married into a Punjabi family which aired from January 2004 to January 2005.

“What is the big deal? There comes a time in every woman’s life where she has to decide what is her priority in life,” she said. She decided her priority was her daughters, and she stepped away from being the reigning queen of Bollywood.  “As I told you, every woman has her priorities. It’s nothing to feel guilty about. If I decide to take care of my children just to take a break and give a 100 percent, it’s nothing wrong,” she said, ardently.

She is perplexed with society for making women who are homemakers “feel like they are good for nothing” and women who work are made to feel guilty. “These are women who want to balance both — it’s superb. I salute the women who work and at the same time take care of the family. It is not at all a joke. It’s really tough and difficult; yet they are managing to do that. Hats off to them,” she said.

Sridevi’s biggest champion and her ‘person’ is her husband Boney Kapoor. According to her, when she was filming for English Vinglish, Kapoor travelled with her to New York with their two daughters and was there supporting her throughout. “He’s always around,” she said.

Comeback with a bang

Sridevi returned to the big screen in 2012 with English Vinglish and regained her “superstar” status with aplomb. Even though the film was produced by R. Balki and directed by first-timer Gauri Shinde, she calls it a “home production” because of all the care that the producer and director took to help her transition back to working. “It became convenient,” she asserted, when Balki and Shinde saw to her comfort during the shoot; and she is still grateful about that.

Now, after another five-year hiatus, she will be seen on the big screen as the titled Mom in her husband’s production that opens in theatres today. Fans have been waiting with bated breath since the first look of the film came out a few months ago. In the poster, Sridevi looks haggard and gritty, a look that was appreciated by everyone. “This is the character. It has to look real. There is no glamour about this character,” she explained the deglamourized avatar. Her involvement in her role was so much so that she stopped talking to her husband for three months of shoot. “I wasn’t my usual self with him — because I had to be this character; I had to make her believable.”

It’s just the beginning

This is her first Hindi film since English Vinglish; she starred in the 2015 Tamil fantasy-adventure film Puli as the sorceress/queen Yavanarani. Mom also happens to be her 300th film, which will simultaneously release in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

She brushed aside the “300 films” comment, saying that she doesn’t have a complete filmography as her mother, who was also her manager in earlier days, is no longer around.  “It’s only people like you who say 50 years … 300 films. For me, this is like my first film and I am sitting here like a newcomer. The script is the attraction, and we have got to find the right balance,” she says laughingly.

The enigma that surrounded her in her heydays still runs strong. Even today, she is quite removed from the stardom and celebrity airs that are quite “newsworthy” as was obvious with the way she deflected certain questions and several compliments.

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