At 53, Sridevi, possibly one of the most prolific and successful female stars of all time, is keeping a schedule that would exhaust younger actors.
“It is the subject of the film: it needs to go out and reach everyone,” Sridevi said about her upcoming movie Mom in a tiny banquet room at a five-star hotel in Kolkata as two burly guards kept the fidgety local media at bay. “Everyone must go home feeling something.”
In Kolkata to talk up her home production and her 300th release, the seemingly indefatigable actress managed to squeeze in a dozen interviews and a special appearance on a reality show before flying back to Mumbai without losing her equanimity.
“Earlier, you gave two or three interviews and you were done,” she told Scroll.in. “Things have changed and you change with the times. Whatever you do, you need to promote it well. It is tough, but I am enjoying the process. It is important for me.”
Directed by Ravi Udyawar and also starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Akshaye Khanna, Adnan Siddiqui and Sajal Ali, Mom is about a mother-daughter relationship that is tested by a violent crime. Sridevi has been travelling widely to promote the July 7 release, giving more interviews than she possibly has over the five decades of her career. She has had to shed her media-averse ways and take on questions about her styling, her daughters Jhanvi and Khushi, and her image makeover in Mom, and some of her replies are firmly enigmatic.
The choice of Sridevi’s saris for her various appearances has gotten fashion bloggers talking, but the actor seems untouched by the attention on her sartorial statements. “I have no clue,” she said, patting the folds of the pristine white ensemble her stylist Ami Patel had chosen for the evening. “I guess it is some Indian designer. I forgot the name. They gave it to me, I wore it.”
Sridevi exudes a calmness that seems incongruous with her electric screen presence. “I am a very centred person,” she said. “I am deeply religious and it helps me stay focussed. I have always been like this. I have never felt the need to get agitated or hyper about anything in life.”
Lowering the mask
Sridevi has only recently lowered her guard and allowed the media into her personal space. She has been wielding as many questions about her elder daughter Jhanvi’s acting debut as about as her plans to revive Mr India (1987), one of her most popular films, with her producer husband Boney Kapoor.
“The Mr India sequel will happen when it will happen, nothing is fixed, we do not even know who will act in it,” she explained patiently to every journalist who asked her the question – and there have been many.
There has also speculation about Jhanvi Kapoor’s career moves, especially after Sridevi made a statement that she would rather see her daughters married.
If Sridevi has lingering doubts about whether her daughter should be following in her footsteps, she keeps them to herself. Pushed into movies in 1967 by her parents when she was only four years old, Sridevi brought home the bacon all the way till 1997, swapping fame for domesticity until she was wooed back by director Gauri Shinde for English Vinglish in 2012.
“I cannot expect my daughter to be the way I was with my mother at their age,” Sridevi said. “Both my daughters have been brought up with certain ethics and values and know where to draw a line. I am a cool mom, but, there is always a but. Yes, there are more professional managers and crew and filmmakers, but there is absolutely no substitute for hard work. It is not something Jhanvi can take for granted. And also luck. And my daughters know where I came from and they know where to draw a line.”
Mom on and off the screen
The entire promotional campaign for Mom seems to have been designed to play on Sridevi’s twinned image as the mother of a much-hyped debutante and a screen matriarch dealing with a dark, complex issue.
“Not just a scene or a moment or a dialogue, the entire film was intense,” she said. “The entire journey of doing this film has been very intense. It was not something I have ever felt before. Maybe because I was relating to it as a mother. But Devaki, being in that situation, was very unnerving and unpleasant. At the same time, she is very strong and can go to any extremes for her daughter.”
She similarly enjoyed the process of slipping into the part of Shashi, the linguistically challenged caterer from English Vinglish. In the movie’s opening scene, Sridevi deftly turns out perfectly rounded laddoos. The mention of laddoos brings on the laughter. “I don’t go to the kitchen; I cannot cook, forget making laddoos,” she confessed. “It is something I learnt during the film. You know, turning them this way and that.”
Sridevi has had no reason or inclination to use her ladoo-making skills since. “Why should I?”