Two things happened simultaneously in 1991: At the age of 11, I found that I was fascinated with the lead actor of the American Soap Santa Barbara, who was always shirtless with a very hairy chest; and I discovered Sridevi. They are not necessarily connected, but my father had just bought the first colour TV and a video casette recorder. This was followed by a cable connection and Star India came into our homes, bringing with it Santa Barbara.
We weren’t allowed any cinema visits, so our introduction to movies was, to say the least, lacking. For our first movie rental, my mother approved Chandni (1989). She had seen it earlier on a visit to Delhi.
It was an elaborate process, because not everyone in the Gupta joint family house in Hisar got along. So, only favourite cousins were invited. The rest of the warring aunts were given a long-winding cable connection to our VCR so they could watch it on their black-n-white televisions in their rooms.
An entire family of 40-plus people across five rooms, brought together through the miracle of VCR and lots of wiring, watched mesmerised as Sridevi danced as Rishi Kapoor serenaded her, “Chandni...O Meri Chandni”.
My love for Sridevi clouded my attraction to the Santa Barbara stud. I was already in the business of dressing up myself and all my female cousins in my mother’s clothes. The next morning, inspired by Sridevi’s outfits in the movie, we had white party (long before it became trendy among yuppies). The dress code was white salwar-kameez and white chunnis, in what was our own small-time cow-belt northern-India version of Drag Race Haryana. My mother and aunts watched in amusement, till it became somewhat of an obsession of mine to dress my little sister and myself as mini Chandnis everyday after school.
My very kind – and also slightly concerned – mother never stopped me, but imposed a curfew on the dressing up. It must end an hour before my father returns and by the time she is done watching the third re-run of Santa Barbara that was aired at 5 pm and which she hoped would improve her English.
So every evening at five, donning a white dupatta – my inner Chandni – in different styles, I would join my mother. As she practised her English, I imagined the American stud serenading me: “O Chandni”.
On Sunday morning, my mother woke me up and said, “Your Chandni passed away last night. Remember you were obsessed with my white dupatta and that stupid American show we watched together?. We both mourned: me, my Sridevi of Chandni, Mr India and Lamhe fame and she, her Sridevi of English-Vinglish.
I went back to sleep and dreamt of Chandni once again. In the legends of gay icons, the mantle of Rekha for many passed on to Madhuri Dixit. But for me, it was always Chandni. Thank you, Sridevi, for giving me the strength to wear that white dupatta. It carries me everyday, through today.