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Why Did These Screen Queens Die So Young?

Subhash K . Jha

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Sridevi

Sridevi  left us only at 54. She was at her prime both as a woman and  an actor. Herfinal  performance in  Mom  proved her steely will to excel no matter what the age.

 Sridevi  was determined to take forward her diva’s image into the coming years. During one  of  my last conversations with when I  mentioned the forbidden ‘f’ word(fifty) she protested strongly, “No no,  don’t even talk about it. I  don’t think of my age. Neither should you.” She  again requested  me  anxiously at the end  of the interview to not mention her age in the interview.

But someone was  counting her years. Bollywood screen divas have a nasty habit of leaving us prematurely.Nutan whom cancer claimed, was  only 55 when she left us. Coincidentally she  too died in February,  like Sridevi. Nutan left behind a legacy far greater than Sridevi or any of the screen legends.

 Sad to say, for all her volcanic talent most of  Sridevi’s Hindi films are no match to her volcanic talent.  Judaai and Chandni in which she was  a powerhouse of exceptional skills are blatantly mediocre films.Throughout the 1980s Sridevi excelled in the most atrocious potboilers  from the South directed by the likes  of T Rama Rao and K Raghvendra Rao.

 I once asked her how she managed  to be so brilliant in such awful films. Her reply?  A giggle. And… “I never discriminated  among myroles. To me  every film was equally precious and I gave  the same respect to  all my directors.”

I wonder if the mythical Meena Kumari felt the same. Dd she accord Kamal Amrohi and Guru Dutt who immortalize her in Pakeezah and  Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam , the same respect as Ramanna(Jawab) and Saawan Kumar Tak(Gomti Ke Kinare). We lost Meena  Kumari at the age  of  39 , just a week before the release  of Pakeezah. Looking back at her oeuvre I am amazed at how much of  her legendary reputation  depends on  just a few classics. Most  of the work she did was  unquestionably mediocre.Try watching her in Main Bhi Ladki Hoon or Chandan Ka Palna.

Madhubala  left us when she was 36. Her swan song Mughal-e-Azam still has the power  to make  us swoon. The closest we come to a fitting farewell for Sridevi  is English Vinglish a deeply relevant and engaging discourse on  the  irrational important  the Indian middleclassattaches  to speaking the English language fluently.

Madhubala’s celluloid legacy boasts  of sporadic brilliance in  films  like Chalti Ka  NaamGaadiTarana and  the underrated Amar. But her  reputation rests largely on  Mughal-e-Azam

 Which  is like  saying Agra’s reputation rests  mainly on  the Taj Mahal.

 How many  Taj Mahals did Geeta Bali leave behind when she died  suddenly of smallpox at the age of  35? Many including me  think  of Geeta as the precursor to Sridevi. The impish charm the comic spontaneity and  the sheer joie de vivre were shared  by both the immortal actresses. But did Geeta Bali do any film worth remembering today? Not one of her films has any recall value.Not even Albela  which is recalled for the song Shola jo bhadke and nothing else.

Sridevi luckily is a screen great  whose performances in Mr India(incidentally Geeta Bali too did a film titled Mr India), Chalbaaz, Sadma,Judaai, Chandni ,Lamhe and English Vinglish will keep us regaled  till kingdo come.

 But does Sridevi have a single  Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Bandini, Pakeezah  to her credit?

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