Sridevi, born Shree Amma Yanger Ayyappan, is often described as the first female superstar of Indian cinema. Born on August 13, 1963, she began her career as a child actor and by the time she passed away, aged 54, she'd acted in 300 films. Sridevi brought to life every cinematic frame that she appeared in and perhaps because so much of her life had been spent in front of the camera, she was a recluse. The moment the director called "Cut!", she would withdraw into herself. While her introvertedness has left us with too few stories from her, there is something to be said for the way Sridevi guarded her privacy, while being surrounded by the trappings of fame and notoriety. She may have played 300 different roles, but she seems to never have lost sight of herself.
1963 – 1973
At the age of four, Sridevi made her debut in the Tamil film Kandhan Karunai (1967), followed by M.A. Thirumugam's Thunaivan (1969). She acted in her first Telugu film with Maa Nanna Nirdoshi (1970), and the Malayalam film Poompatta (1971) won her the Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Artist. Among the standout films from Sridevi's filmography as a child artist are Babu (1971), Badi Panthulu (1972) and Vasantha Maligai (1972). At nine years old, the actor made her Hindi film debut in K.S.R. Das's Rani Mera Naam (1972).
Sridevi made her debut in Kannada cinema with Hunsur Krishnamurthy's Bhakta Kumbara (1974). She played the role of a younger sister in the romantic drama Julie (1975). She played a young adult for the first time: Sridevi was 13 years old and the film was Moondru Mudichu (1976) directed by K. Balachander. She was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Tamil, for her performance in the film. In 1977, Tamil cinema saw Sridevi establish herself as a top actor with films like Gaayathri, Kavikkuyil and 16 Vayathinile. She was acting alongside heroes like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.
Sridevi's first Hindi film as a female lead was Solva Sawan (1979). Two years later, she won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Tamil for her performance in Meendum Kokila (1981). She was also awarded the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actress for her work in Moondram Pirai (1982). Meanwhile, in Bollywood, the Eighties would see her become one of the top actors in the Indian film industry, especially after the success of films like Himmatwala, Mawaali and Justice Chaudhury (all from 1983). Himmatwala remains one of Sridevi's most famous roles, particularly for the song "Nainon Mein Sapna".
Success continued into the next decade. Tohfa (1984) was the highest-grossing film of the year and Filmfare magazine declared on its cover that Sridevi was "Unquestionably #1". Her iconic pairing with Rajesh Khanna led to movies like Maqsad (1984), Masterji (1985) and Nazrana (1987). More famous was the Sridevi-Jeetendra pairing, which recurred in 16 films, including Ghar Sansar (1986) and Aulad (1987).
Among her legendary hits from this period are Nagina, followed by Subhash Ghai's Karma and Feroz Khan's Janbaaz in the same year (all in 1986). In the following year, Sridevi became the highest-paid Indian actress in history when she got Rs 11 lakh for playing Seema in Mr India (1987). While she will be forever remembered for turning a blue chiffon sari into a thing of pure fantasy, the film also showed off Sridevi's considerable acting talents and gift for comedy. Her imitation of Charlie Chaplin in the film is particularly sublime.
Dazzling and dauntless on camera, Sridevi delivered fabulous performances one after another in Yash Chopra's Chandni and then ChaalBaaz (both in 1989). She was nominated for Best Actress at Filmfare for both films and won the award for her performance in ChaalBaaz. In 1991, she did what Chopra said was his favourite film, Lamhe (1991).
There were also some duds. Khuda Gawah (1992), with Amitabh Bachchan, saw Sridevi attempting to pass herself as a Central Asian warrior with limited success. She also starred in Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993), said to be one of the most expensive Indian films ever produced. Around this time, Sridevi was approached by Steven Spielberg for a role in Jurassic Park, but declined the offer.
Hiatus (1997) and comeback (2012)
After Raj Kanwar's Judaai (1997), Sridevi went on a 15-year-long hiatus from films. She'd be seen on television every now and then, but it seemed like the actor had retired from cinema. Until she made everyone sit up with Gauri Shinde's English Vinglish (2012), in which Sridevi played a homemaker named Shashi who rediscovers herself when she leaves her family to go on a vacation to New York City. In many ways, the actor looked different from how audiences remembered her, but what remained the same was Sridevi's ability to light up every scene in which she appeared.
She would later be seen in Puli (2015) — her last Tamil film — and Mom (2017), which was Sridevi's 300th film and produced by her husband, Boney Kapoor. She received the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance. The last time we saw Sridevi on screen was in a cameo, in Aanand L. Rai's Zero (2018).