Shantanu Guha Ray is a Wharton-trained, award-winning senior investigative journalist. He is also well known for authoring books like Fixed!: Cash And Corruption In Cricket; Found Dead; The Target; and Mahi: The Story Of India's Most Successful Captain.
The story of Sridevi is not about her stardom, or acting skills at 54. It is about her demise; the unfortunate trigger for breaking headlines and mindless speculations in Indian newsrooms.
The air in the hotel - once, full of love and laughter that always accompany Indian actors in Dubai - is now, full of pain, agony, and shock. Once, the UAE destination wedding pictures were doing the rounds on social media; now, it’s all about Sridevi - born Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan in Chennai, in 1963. She was last seen at her nephew, Mohit Marwah’s wedding to his sweetheart Antara Motiwala. Marwah, who is in a state of total shock, could even call off the rest of the celebrations. Sridevi was like his mother. She was just 54, died of “drowning in a bathtub”, a very unnatural cause. Doctors tried for a little over an hour to revive her; but, failed.
She was tender, sweet, funny, and an unusually loving human being, a control freak who - after lots of reluctance - agreed to guide her daughter’s journey into Bollywood, like a heart surgeon in an operation theatre.
India loved her. A lot. She created a wealth of characters and an immense body of work. And like all Bollywood veterans, she was in a maddening race to look beautiful. A friend wrote on her WhatsApp Group: “The society demanded that she stay slimmer/look younger than a 40-year-old, 50-year-old and plus 50 woman needs to be--hence, the continuous surgeries.”
Those who took selfies with her at the wedding venue found her resplendent in an ivory creation by designer Manish Malhotra, her presence bolstered the glamour quotient considerably. In a photograph with her, her younger daughter Janhvi Kapoor wore a floral pink lehenga, also by Malhotra. The star-studded guest list for the wedding included Karan Johar, Athiya Shetty, Sonam and Rhea Kapoor. The Gunday actor, Arjun Kapoor, her foster son - who had injected some Bollywood charm and cheer into the proceedings by dancing to the quintessential wedding song, Dilliwali Girlfriend, with his boy squad - is in a state of shock. So are other members of the Kapoor family, which include Sanjay, his wife, Maheep and daughter Shanaya, cousins Siddhanth and Harshvardhan. They are - claim their friends in Dubai - constantly watching videos of Sridevi.
The room where she died is now sealed by the hotel authorities in Dubai. Sridevi, claim sources, stayed behind after a family wedding to shop for ethnic dresses and gold jewellery from a designer for daughter Janhvi. But, she did not make any phone calls and received calls from her room after “considerable delays,” claimed the hotel staff, speaking on condition of anonymity. The actress stayed put in her room and even skipped her mandatory gym time for two days. There is another theory doing the rounds in Dubai that Sridevi stepped out of her hotel to an undisclosed location and returned after a couple of hours.
Boney Kapoor, her distraught husband, has told the Dubai Police that Sridevi was initially reluctant to join him for dinner at Zuma, a Japanese restaurant at the Dubai International Financial Centre close to Burj Khalifaa. Investigations are now closed by the Dubai police.
Although, there are some mysterious aspects. An officer, who cannot be quoted under Dubai laws, said there are still two main versions of who found the body first. The hotel authorities claim they broke open the lock when she did not respond, following her call for a bottle of mineral water. The other version came from Boney Kapoor who told the cops he broke open the lock after water overflowed from the bathroom. The cops also probed why her death was initially declared as “cardiac arrest” and then turned into “death from drowning” after post-mortem.
Boney also told the cops in Dubai that he first called his friend and politician Amar Singh, and then he called two of his friends, Sanjay Gupta, of Kaante and Aatish fame, and Rajat Rawail, son of veteran filmmaker Rahul Rawail of Love Story, Betaab and Dacait fame, and informed them of Sridevi’s death. Both of them rushed to Dubai to be with Kapoor.
Was it suicide, or a hit? Was Sridevi in a bout of depression as YouTube videos surfaced about her arguments with Janhvi? That she was initially against Janhvi’s Bollywood career was widely reported. Nobody knows for sure; but, her death had all the elements of a Bollywood mystery, happening five years after another Indian actor, Farooque Sheikh’s death due to a heart attack during a visit to Dubai. To a generation of fans raised on her films, the notion that Sridevi should have killed herself is inconceivable — and perhaps it was.
She got in front of the cameras when she was 4. The Tamil movie, Thunaivan, was released in 1969. Six years later, she hit Bollywood in 1975 as a child actor in Julie.
At 13, she starred opposite Tamil superstar Rajinikanth in Moondru Mudichu, which had a guest appearance by Kamal Haasan. This set off her golden years in South Indian cinema. In 1979, she got her lead debut role in a Hindi film, Solva Sawan. Her fame shot through the roof with Himmatwala, in 1983.
Kamal Haasan, remembered how she was petrified to do death scenes on the sets. “Probably she hated death, she was absolutely terrified of going to hell.” Another of her co-stars, Sunny Deol, remembered how he almost walked out of a movie because Sridevi hogged all the attention. “She was the star of the movie, not me.”
That was over two decades ago. Even in death, headlines refuse to leave Sridevi. Her smile is now ashes in an urn, soon to be immersed in waters of a holy river.
To read Shantanu Guha Ray's latest book Found Dead, get it here.
Image Courtesy: YouTube, IANS