Your first book was a mystery thriller. What inspired you to write Sridevi’s biography?
I have been an ardent admirer of Sridevi and I had always been appalled by the fact that there was no elaborate book celebrating her prolific career. Hailed as India’s First Female Superstar, she not only remains the longest running No.1 actress in Hindi Cinema but she’s the only actress who was No.1 in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu cinema. Such was her stardom that she towered above her male co-stars and became the ‘hero’ of her films. She is also the only heroine who made a triumphant comeback post her marriage, thus shattering Bollywood rules, just as she had challenged industry patriarchy throughout her career. Her legacy spans fifty years and yet there was no book chronicling these legendary achievements of her. I guess Sridevi’s massive body of work was intimidating for most writers and I glad my book got to celebrate the female megastar. While the initial idea of this book had been discussed with her and Boney sir, post her untimely demise, it’s now taken the shape and form of a tribute to her inspiring cinematic journey. I am grateful to both Boney sir and Penguin for helping me turn my vision into reality.
Today marks the death anniversary of the legendary actress. Since you have literally lived through her life, what are your emotions?
My deepest emotion is that Sri’s untimely demise is a big blow to the cause of actresses in cinema. Sridevi had the guts to refuse films opposite Amitabh unless she had an equally solid role. Amitabh had to woo her by sending her a truckload of flowers to finally get her to act opposite him in Khuda Gawah. It just shows that she was always someone who flowed against the tide. She respected her own stardom and talent and wanted to remind the audiences of the true glory of an Indian film heroine. She became the ‘hero’ of her films and raised the status of the Indian film heroine to a whole new dimension. Today we talk about misogyny, patriarchy, sexism and toxic masculinity in the industry and Sridevi had battled it all in the eighties and emerged victorious. She was respectfully addressed as ‘Mai’ in Bollywood who had become more powerful than her male co-stars and was even paid more than them. It’s even more relevant today and I want it to be a big take-away for the readers of this book. She not only empowered her audiences but also became a messiah for the LGBT community worldwide. She was the only star who could be No.1 in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu industries. By becoming a truly pan-Indian megastar, Sridevi achieved what many of our biggest heroes could not. She will forever remain an inspiration for generations of actresses to come.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing Sridevi’s biography?
One big challenge was what to keep out of the book given that Sridevi’s career is so prolific. This was a book about an actress whose career spanned 50 years, 5 languages and 300 films. Condensing this gargantuan journey in a book was quite daunting but that was also fun. Another big challenge was to write this book in the absence of Sridevi. If she would have been alive, the narrative would have been even more personal. Thankfully, I had a huge stack of film magazines from the 80s and 90s that form a part of my personal collection. They are filled with interviews of Sridevi through various stages of her career. In her absence, those quotes have become her voice in my book. When you read those, you will get glimpses of both the person and the performer that she was.
What were the elements you steered clear of while penning the biography?
I have consciously avoided anything that falls in the realm of speculation. Everything in the book is certified and factual. All information given has been double-checked for authenticity and duly attributed to sources. Hence any data which is mere conjecture has been kept out of the book. While I was initially keen to interview Janhvi and Khushi, Boney sir advised me against it as it would have been emotionally taxing for both of them. So I avoided intruding on that personal space of grief. Also there are many conspiracy theories floating around regarding Sri’s sudden demise. Thankfully many credible voices spoke to me about it and I have attempted to provide a rational explanation of her death.
What is the biggest treat for readers in the book?
The biggest treat would be the memories and rare anecdotes about Sridevi that everyone I have interviewed have shared for the book. I was fortunate to interview over 70 personalities, both in Bollywood and down south, who were associated with Sridevi both personally and professionally. Those interviews have yielded fascinating stories. Like while Kamal Haasan reveals the pranks he pulled on Sri, Anil Kapoor reminisces about the Marwah wedding night in Dubai when he met Sri for the last time. While Rajinikanth remembers moments from his first film with Sridevi, Nagarjuna reveals an incident that somewhat forewarns the manner of Sri’s tragic demise. While Chiranjeevi shares what he learnt from Sridevi, Karan Johar recollects her personal traits that he discovered watching her on sets. While Raghavendra Rao talks about a near fatal incident that happened with Sridevi when she was a child star, Ram Gopal Varma shares his favourite Sridevi moment off-screen. And while Shruti Haasan shares the life lesson that she picked up from Sri, Kajol and Vidya Balan tell you why she remains their biggest inspiration. You will also find personal anecdotes about how Sridevi coped with her father’s death and her mother’s botched up surgery in New York. Many such anecdotes form the beating heart of the book.
What is the feedback you are getting about the book?
I am ecstatic that the book has been getting a wonderful response from readers. Many keep tweeting to me to share how much they have loved the book because it reveals so many unknown things about her. For many, it has also been an emotional experience to relive Sridevi’s fascinating journey that culminated with such an untimely end. One fan actually wrote to me saying this book has become like Bhagvad Gita for him! That her admirers have loved the book is the biggest reward for me. The reviews have also been fantastic and we have already entered the bestseller list on Amazon.
Last but not the least, why do you write?
Scribo ergo sum. I write therefore I am. Period.