Gauri Shinde on Sridevi’s death: “I couldn’t work on a film all of last year”
It’s been a year since her passing, but I still don’t think I have entirely processed that she is not around anymore. It’s easier to deal with the loss by thinking that we just haven’t met for long. It has been a tough year, with many moments of breakdown, especially when I think about how special Sri’s entry into my life was and the impact she had.
I couldn’t work on a film all of last year. I shelved what I was writing and wondered if I would be able to make another film again. It’s only this year that I have had the courage to start. Sridevi not being in my life made me question my profession itself. What affects me is not that I lost a friend, but the loss of an artist.
I didn’t know Sridevi personally before I made English Vinglish. The first time I met her was to narrate my script. We used to say that first meeting was like a blind date where we fell in love with each other.
Throughout the narration her responses were amazing. It is a joy for a writer when the person listening is reacting to the notes as you want them to and not missing a beat. What connected us in
that first meeting was a vibe and the feeling that we were both very intuitive. I still find myself speaking of Sri in the present tense sometimes. It’s very hard for me to speak of her in the past tense.
Her confidence in me and the script was so amazing. While working with her and watching her, I was falling for her. She was not anxious about coming back to work after such a long break during which so much about filmmaking had changed. More than anything she was eager to deliver what the director wanted. She even offered some lovely inputs. Sri was a big fan of Michael Jackson and it was she who suggested that Shashi’s little jig that she performs when she is ecstatic could be of her mimicking him.
Once, when we were shooting in a house in New York, I was ready for the scene but I could not find Sri. She was hiding under the quilt on the bed—just for fun. In the dance sequence, even after ‘cut’ she would do some funny moves in the outtakes. That was her—childlike, fun and yet sensitive, caring, loving, innocent and simple.
She lovingly called me “My Khushi”. At our first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, we both held hands throughout. We were nervous and it was unreal to experience that standing ovation. She looked radiant that day as she returned to the movies after a 15 year break.
Thanks to her I had the confidence to make a second film because English Vinglish was so overwhelming. Making a film is very tough and draining. My relationship with Sri gave me confidence that things are possible and that stars are not only a certain way. Then, when I told her about my next film, Dear Zindagi, not only was she supportive but she also said, ‘I will come and be your assistant and hold your papers’. I don’t think she was entirely kidding about wanting to be my AD.
Sri often recounted funny stories from her earlier films and how they would run from one set to another. She once told us about the time certain productions shared the same location. Those were the days before vanity vans were made available. On one such location someone from the crew had to pee so they went behind a tree, and while the person was answering nature’s call, a song sequence shoot started and someone danced past. It wasn’t just that the stories were amusing, but it was also her style of narrating them made them even funnier.
Sri was shy but she sparkled in front of the camera and in private she was fun and hilarious. There is no way you could do the kind of comedy she did unless you have that inherent sense of humour. We would laugh at the stupidest things and she’d say, ‘We are so mad, Gauri’. I was really privileged to experience her free-spirited side.
If I had to pick my favourite Sridevi films they would be Sadma, Chandni, Lamhe and Mr. India in which she was too hot and too funny. And English Vinglish, not because it is mine, but because it is one of my favourite films featuring her.
Sri has left behind a family and a legacy. She could be anything on screen. If I have to define what that legacy is, I would say she brought joy and that joy was so genuine that it emanated to the audience. She has also given tears, which we want to experience. When we watch a film, we want to cry in order to feel happy. And Sri gave both joy and tears—two emotions that we cannot live without.
As told to Udita Jhunjhunwala
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Author: Gauri Shinde