On Sridevi’s birthday (13 August), Harish Iyer writes a heartfelt open letter to the legendary actor.
Naan Onnai Kadhalikarein.
You are just seven years younger than my mom. I am gay. But my biggest and strongest crush has just been you. It took me 34 years to meet you on the sets of Satyamev Jayate where I was high on emotions and lost on control.
However, I never ever imagined myself beside you. I never ever imagined in my ever life that you would be calling me your hero. You helped me through my most difficult time in my life, where I was being gang-raped. You became a part of my life without even realising it. Your choice of roles and your strong depiction of characters had a huge role in shaping my thoughts and encouraging me to live.
When you consoled me here, when I was uncontrollable. It is one of the most iconic moments in my life.
I looked up to your character in Nan Adimai Illai, where you went beyond the norms of the society to stand up for yourself and give birth to a child outside marriage. When your father separates you from your child, you don’t give up the quest to meet your child. You met him in the end.
It made me believe in the uncertain freedom and joy. No one would have an idea of how much the idea of freedom is important for someone who is braving rape but the survivor themselves. Thank you.
In Nagina, when you were forced to hide your identity of being an icchadhari naagin, you hid your inner animal for quite some time, until the day when you were busted by the snake charmer. I didn’t want you to leave the animal side, but you did. You chose truth and humanity. You won over evil. It helped me understand that I had to challenge the status quo, and find my own path to freedom.
Seema in Mr India believed in a story about a person she had never seen. In fact, she stood up for him in in front of her editor. Seema never liked children, she yet did a simple act of getting food for all children when the kids of her landlord were challenged.
I realised the importance of empathy at the most challenging moments of life even when you don’t connect with the person at all the other moments.
I am 38 now and today is a good day to tell you that our love story dates to the time I was just five years old. I think the first film I watched of yours was Julie. You had a small role to play in this film that starred Laxmi in the lead. However, my mom, who sang My heart is beating, keeps on repeating as a lullaby, made me super inquisitive about Irene (your character) in Julie. My mom had mentioned your name, and I was always in the lookout for you, in the blink-and-miss role in the film.
You changed my life. Every time you appeared in screen, you challenged me like a voice in the background.
I cannot forget Chalbaaz and Chandni. While I allied with Anju’s fears, I thought my inner voice was the energetic Manju. I was both effervescent and challenged when I was trying to understand what I was going through. I was just 10 and being raped every second week. I felt like Anju, bounced like Manju and wanted to be my own rebel full of emotional energy like Chandni.
I loved you in Gurudev, where you played a Hyderabadi. The way you smuggled alcohol inside a hospital; in Mr India the way you smuggled yourself into Mogambo’s island empire, was more than just a comic scene to me.
In the subconscious mind, you made me unafraid about putting myself in a difficult spot or adopting another empowering character when the situation was not favourable. Remember this charlie act?
I was getting raped. I was not able to revolt because I was gangraped. The only way I could feel solace with what was happening, was to believe that this wasn’t real but a drama that will finally lead to the destruction of the evil.
Let’s get to the basics. It is not that I loved every film of yours. I loved you in the films though. I didn’t like Puli, Farishtey, Jaag Utha Insaan, Sultanat, Majaal. Mujhe Meri Biwi Se Bachaao. Your performances were avant garde. However, I judged you for the choice of films.
Calling you India’s Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts would be an insult to you. In fact, they should be called the Sridevi of Hollywood. The way you could say – “Understand? You better understand!” in Laadla, is my evil self that I use with evil trolls every day today.
I loved you Sri, in Judaai, when you were willing to sell your husband to feed your greed, or in Sadma when you recovered from your mental condition and forgot your past. I was then at a phase when I was getting an immense amount of publicity. It helped me be grounded when my wings were spread all around.
And finally, these songs, Sri. How many times have I danced to these songs from Justice Choudhary and Mawali?
Mama mia pom pom
and of course, how can we forget this?
And this dance, that spoke about whatever I felt within every time I was repulsed and angry about my abuse.
I am also your biggest critic. I have never been close to tearing my hair when you chose the worst of films. I have been loving you all the time. Thank you for doing so much for me by simply by the choice of your good films. You were so real, so believable that I was transported to a different world. Thank you.
I cannot stop crying as I write this but, I have to tell you.
You are one of the most important people in my life. It is because of you that I am living, in many ways. Can you imagine a phase in your life that you are upset and low and feel like there is nothing left in life? There is nothing positive or nothing that will work in your favour? You have changed my life Sri. Thank you is too small a word.
And when after all of this, when I started my journey as an out and proud gay man and only wished that you would say something about homosexuality, you did this.
Thank you, Sri. I am living today. Celebrating myself today. And this is the best role you have ever played in your real life. Thank you. Thank you, Sri.
Happy Birthday, My Ageless Princess.
Happy Birthday, Sri.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘Rainbow Man’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)