In a 2011 episode of her dance tutorial show Nachle Ve, Hindi film choreographer Saroj Khan recreated Sridevi’s performance in the song Mere Haathon Mein from Chandni (1989). “This song is very special to me in my career because every time I listen to the song, only Sridevi’s beautiful dance comes to mind,” said Khan, who choreographed the track.
In a career spanning 50 years, Sridevi was widely praised for her impeccable body language and comic timing as well as her nifty footwork. From dreamy sequences to romantic twirls on mountain-tops, Sridevi mastered them all. Her performance elevated songs across Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam films. Here’s a short list, by no means exhaustive, of the dancing queen’s most memorable performances.
In Ilaiyaraaja’s peppy song Hey Padal Ondru from Priya (1978), Rajinikanth and Sridevi pretend to be king and queen. While the movements are simple, the song is one of the earliest testimonies to the actress’s grace and expressiveness. “Minnal undhan penmai, ennai thaakum aayudham: Your femininity is a lightening, and also a weapon that strikes me,” Rajinikanth sings as Sridevi glides, as do her eyes.
Sridevi’s dancing prowess is hardly limited to her swift footwork. In a beautiful conversational song from K Balachander’s Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu (1980), every part of Sridevi’s face dances, competing with every move by Kamal Haasan, her frequent on-screen partner.
The actress has also had a fair share of quirky, over-the-top songs in Telugu movies. Namaste Suswagatham from the Krishna-starrer Kirai Kotigadu (1983) is among them. Even when the duo prance in slow motion for much of the song, the actress does it in style.
This is another duet with Rajinikanth, but Sridevi is the centre of attention. In Devi Devi from Naan Adimai Illai (1986), the duo dance to SP Balasubrahmanyam and Janaki’s melodious vocals and romance against the backdrop of waterfalls and lush meadows. The highlight: a jig atop massive Yashica cameras, a nod to the protagonist’s profession.
Who can forget the grey and menacing eyes of Sridevi’s snake-woman glowering at a horror-struck Amrish Puri in Main Teri Dushman from Nagina (1986)? Clad in sparkling white, Sridevi slithers across the floor as Puri’s snake charmer fails to tame her force.
Hawa Hawai from Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India (1987) is one of Sridevi’s most popular songs. The zesty number brings out the crackling combination of Sridevi’s comedic timing and her effortless movements. Though it has inspired numerous remixes over the years, the original earworm remains miles ahead.
The rain-drenched Na Jaane from Pankaj Parashar’s Chaalbaaz (1989) channels the best traditions of music videos. Sridevi creates a big splash in a transparent raincoat, jiving around with infectious glee that rubs off on her co-star, Sunny Deol.
The seductive Anmayi Muddu Ivvande from the Venkatesh-starrer Kshana Kshanam (1991) features the actress in captivating form. Sridevi infuses energy into this slow-paced song by swerving and canoodling in rain, steam and storm, adorned in monochrome sarees.
“When the peacock sings in the night, it is as if a dagger hits the heart,” Sridevi’s Pallavi says before she goes on to personify the bird in Morni Baga Ma from Lamhe (1991). As she hops around the desert, a mesmerised Anil Kapoor looks on.
Sridevi imagines herself as a yearning Radha who is looking out for her Krishna (Arvind Swamy) in Ya Ya Ya Yaadava from the Malayalam film Devaraagam (1996). Sridevi performs solo for much of the song and despite minimal detail in the background, fills the screen with her presence.
Another song in which Sridevi does all the talking (and dancing) with her expressions is Main Sasural Nahin Jaaongi from Yash Chopra’s Chandni (1989). The movie is fondly remembered for Sridevi’s brilliant dance sequences in songs such as Mere Haathon Mein and the powerful Tandav routine, but in Main Sasural Nahin Jaoongi, the actress does all the heavy-lifting with her face. Clad in a salwaar kameez in her signature shocking pink, Sridevi’s Chandni masters the art of parody by squinting and squirming.
Dance? Who, me? Shashi, the shy housewife with hidden reserves of determination, initially demurs from joining revellers at the wedding in New York City for which she has left her home in Pune and enrolled in English speaking classes. When she finally decides to, it is with the same rectitude and grace that she has tackled the intricacies of English grammar and the affections of a French classmate. Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish (2012) marked Sridevi’s return to the screen after a lengthy absence, and it now ranks as one of the best tributes to a woman who came magically alive on the screen and departed a bit too early.