Recently when I was in Chennai to cover the acquittal of DMK leaders Kanimozhi and A Raja's acquittal in the 2G scam case, there were celebrations outside Kanimozhi's house in CIT Colony in Chennai. After finishing my shoot, as I was proceeding for lunch from location, the cab driver slowed down in front of a house and said, "This is Sridevi's house." My natural reaction was Oh! But as our car passed that bungalow, memories of her films flashed through my mind.
By now, everyone knows Sridevi was born in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, started with Tamizh (Tamil is pronounced this way) films and went on to become a diva of the Hindi Film industry. However, in between, she had her tryst with the Telugu film industry a.k.a Tollywood where she acted in more than 70 films and with heroes who were in their sixties when she was just in her teens.
But what makes Sri (as she is fondly called and remembered) special in the Telugu speaking land?
It was "Padaharella Vayasu" (a 1978 Telugu film starring Sridevi Kapoor, Chandra Mohan, and Mohan Babu) directed by Kovelamudi Raghavendra Rao or popularly known as K Raghavendra Rao (BA) as he suffixes his degree in title rolls in films he directs. Sridevi was her in her teens and this particular film caught the imagination of discerning Telugu movie buffs, followed by Akali Rajyam opposite Kamal Haasan which cemented her place as a heroine to reckon with.
Even when she was a teenager, Sridevi acted as heroine opposite heroes like the late NT Rama Rao (Vetagaadu, Bobbili Puli, Justice Chowdhary), late Akkineni Nageswara Rao (Premabhishekam), who were in their 60s, and many of those films were super hits. Interestingly, with Ghattamaneni Krishna, known as Superstar Krishna, Sridevi acted both as a child artist as well as a heroine opposite him.
Though Tamizh was her mother tongue, Sridevi was equally at ease with Telugu because the erstwhile Madras (now Chennai) was home of the Telugu film industry too before it shifted to Hyderabad. During the late 1970s and 80s, the Telugu film industry was hero-oriented with 60 plus superstars like NTR and ANR ruling the roost and dancing and romancing with heroines like Sridevi, who were of their granddaughters' age.
Even during such times, Sridevi held her ground perfectly and complimented beautifully opposite these superstars with her talent and hard work.
If Hindi film audiences remember her first for "Himmatwala" opposite Jeetendra, she had already done the Telugu version "Ooriki Monagaadu" opposite Telugu hero Krishna. The second film which caught attention was Tohfa (Devatha in Telugu). Though she entered the Hindi film industry with a bang, she never turned her back to Telugu films. At the peak of her career in the Hindi film industry, she came back to do Telugu films with Ram Gopal Varma's "Kshana Kshanam" opposite Venkatesh which was a massive hit and later with Chiranjeevi in "Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari", a blockbuster directed by K Raghavendra Rao.
Later, Sridevi got married and shuttled between Chennai and Mumbai but never severed her relations with the Telugu film industry. On and off she would attend functions and get-togethers whenever she was invited. Megastar Chiranjeevi, who starred with her in "Jagadeka Veerudu...." also recollected how she came for his 60th birthday along with husband Boney Kapoor and made the function special.
The Telugu film industry and the Telugu film goers will forever remember and cherish Sridevi's films for a very long time to come.
By Prasad Bhosekar, Associate Editor, ZMCL