The crew of Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi had one last request for Sridevi, who was in the city to participate in the game show hosted by Prakash Raj on Star Vijay a.k.a Vijay TV, before wrapping up the shoot.
They wanted her to wish the people of Tamil Nadu a happy Tamil new year’s day in Tamil. The show would be one of those rare instances in which her fans in Tamil Nadu, possibly in their forties today, would get a chance to hear her speak in Tamil, albeit on the small screen, again.
As she rehearses her lines before going for the final take, she admits to Prakash Raj that she doesn’t get to speak the language as much as she would like to. Take ok. It could possibly be a while until she speaks the language again, she says, as she gets into the car that is to take her from the AVM studios to her hotel. Just as I realise I wouldn’t get a chance to speak to her, she surprises me by telling me, “Get into the front seat.” As the car begins to move, a fan waves to her. Like a star, she smiles at him. And then, she turns towards me and says, “Okay, ask your questions.”
Watching comedy channels
How often do you get to visit Chennai? “When my children were young, we used to visit Madras almost every weekend,” she reminisces and adds, “Back then my children could bunk school often. It is not possible any more.” Today, she keeps in touch with Tamil Nadu mostly through Tamil TV channels.
“I love these comedy channels. I could watch them all day long,” she laughs, and goes on, “especially, Vivek and Vadivelu. They are hilarious.” Despite making a comeback with English Vinglish after 15 years, a Tamil film doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.
But the actor claims that she has not closed the door on Tamil cinema. “Why would I do that? It is true that I refused many offers; I had to take care of my family. Now that my daughters have grown up, I have more time to act in films,” says Sridevi, before promising, “I will do a Tamil film if I get a good script. I love Tamil cinema.”
Times have changed. Decades ago, when she moved to Mumbai, she encountered a whole new world. It unsettled her at the beginning, she recollects. “Not just the language, even the way they went about making a film was different. In Madras, I was used to having my first shot at 6.30 a.m., but in Bombay, it wouldn’t start until 11.30 a.m.”
Undeterred by language and socio-cultural barriers, she managed to reach the top, an achievement the younger crop of actors finds hard to replicate. Mention this to her, she modestly says, “Artists from the South have always made it big in the North. Bollywood has changed a lot today; it isn’t the same it was decades ago. I am sure many more from the South will make it big in Bollywood in the future.”
The success of her comeback film English Vinglish, assures Sridevi, has not made her sign films left, right and centre. She says, “The script has to suit my personality. I did English Vinglish because I could relate to the character of Sashi, and I liked the way Gauri (Shinde) narrated the story.”
Strong women characters driving the film’s story are not uncommon these days, and she is willing to wait for the right script. “We have a new breed of directors making breakthroughs with fresh films such as Dirty Picture and Kahaani. I am sure things are getting better for female actors,” she observes.
What about the much-talked-about sequel to Mr India? “I definitely want to do it. But, it is too early to talk about it,” says the actor.
Though she was once the most celebrated female star in Tamil cinema, Sridevi says matter-of-factly she doesn’t have friends in the industry. But, then, who would she like to work with if she ever decided to do a Tamil film again? She answers without hesitation, “Definitely Ajith. He is a thorough professional, and a delight to work with.” Even as she offers to turn around and drop me back at the AVM studios, I alight from the car hoping to have a longer chat next time.