It is every Indian’s dream to go in the tricolor. Perhaps it was film actress Sridevi’s too. Irrespective, the state government of Maharashtra stepped in to fulfill it. The late actress died in Dubai by drowning in a bathtub. After a 72- hour investigation and procedural wrangles, her body was finally released by the Dubai Police and flown into Mumbai where she lived with her husband, Boney Kapoor and two daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi.
Born as Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan, Sridevi was a popular name in Hindi cinema where she worked in commercially successful films like Mr India, Chandni and Lamhe. Before that she had worked in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films. She took a long break, some 15 odd years from films doing a few television shows here and there. She made a comeback in 2012 with English Vinglish to complete a 300 film score with Mom. The last two films, more than any others in the past, won Sridevi critical acclaim. A year after Sridevi did English Vinglish, the Government of India awarded her the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award.
On the flip side, Sridevi is producer Boney Kapoor’s second wife.
Boney was already married but walked out on his first wife and two kids to marry Sridevi, who was accused of being a home-breaker.
Sridevi died on February 24 in Dubai. Her body was found in a bathtub of the hotel room.
According to reports, Sridevi stayed back in Dubai after a wedding the family had gone to attend. Her husband left for India only to fly back two days later. He said he wanted to surprise his wife. Before he asked her out for a dinner date, they chatted for a little while after which she went to the washroom to freshen up. After about 15 minutes, when she did not come out, Boney knocked at the door. On receiving no response, he forced open the door to find his wife lying motionless in the bathtub filled with water. Efforts to revive her failed and by the time Sridevi reached the hospital she was dead. The Police was informed around 9.30 pm
According to the post mortem report the cause of her death was put as accidental drowning. Curiously the death certificate misspelt drowning to read as DRAWNING. This, among many other things, has raised questions back home.
By Indian standards, Sridevi was a tall woman: some 5ft 7 inches and for her to drown in a two feet deep bathtub does not sound logical. Chances are that she had consumed alcohol, given that there were initial reports that there were traces of alcohol found in the body. That coupled with anti-depressants can play havoc though there are no confirmed reports about Sridevi being on either drugs or anti depressants.
Some television channels reported that Boney Kapoor had told a friend that he had to “rush back” to Dubai. If that be the case, then the story about giving Sridevi a surprise and the proposed dinner date seems to have gaping holes. Another give away was politician Amar Singh’s interview to a television channel where he said that had Boney not left Sridevi in Dubai she “would not have done what she did”. Is this indicative of Sridevi pushing her death without actually attempting it? Simply put, did she under depression have an overdose of pills and alcohol? The theory about her losing balance and consciousness in the bathtub then fits in.
Three things have further added to the speculation: Sridevi’s sister, Srilatha saying that she will break her silence to reveal some “critical details”; Ram Gopal Varma’s letter and BJP MP Subramanian Swamy’s alleging that her death was staged to look like an accident.
Swamy alleging murder is ofcourse going too far; the other extreme is to close the issue as “accidental drawning” to quote the official version.
This is neither an open and shut case nor as black and white as it being made out to be. There are enough shades of grey worth a probe. Sridevi had undergone many cosmetic surgeries like facelifts, botox to look younger. There is enough evidence to suggest that crash diets and surgeries come with health risks. Whether Sridevi was a victim is difficult to say but it is a stated fact that unnecessary cosmetic surgery is not without health risks. Several people die or get debilitated because of tissue damage, infections and physiological stress from the cosmetic surgery; silicone, prosthetic filler can enter the blood system and block the circulation causing cardiac arrest.
In an open letter shared on Facebook, after Sridevi’s death, filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma mentions this: “For years she was doing occasional cosmetic surgeries the effects of which can be clearly seen” adding that she had to apply make-up not just in front of the camera but also on her “psychological self” to hide her real self. Varma wrote that Sridevi was a “very unhappy woman” and “never at peace”. Varma’s letter triggered angry response but did drive some home truths.
Apart from the mysterious and sudden death, two other issues demand answers: how was Sridevi the first female superstar? And more importantly did she deserve a state funeral?
After her death, television channels went berserk describing Sridevi as the first female superstar. Yes, she did 300 films but does quantity assure quality? She was more popular as “Thunder thighs” because of the short skirts she wore during her dance numbers. Her films sure were popular but there is a question mark on whether they were memorable or whether they left a mark by way of any significant contribution to Indian cinema. Her films added to the numbers and money jingle given that many were super hits but did they add to the quality of Indian cinema? Neither her body of work nor its quality justify the title of first female superstar on Sridevi. There have been many before her who have done credible work and made a mark with stellar performances and more importantly meaningful cinema but have been bereft of the title of being the first female superstar.
At this point, there is another question and a more serious one about the state funeral being given to Sridevi on her death. Sure her death was untimely, tragic, sudden and shocking but is all that enough to elevate her to the level of a martyr or a national dignitary and give her a state funeral?
One argument being furnished for a state funeral for Sridevi is that she was a Padmashri. But that alone is not enough to elevate her status and result in the state government bending over backwards to announce a state funeral. By the same yardstick, the late Smita Patil was a Padmashri, her contribution to meaningful cinema immense, her death untimely, young, tragic and equally shocking but she was not given a state funeral.
A state funeral is arranged by the state government and among other things the body is draped in a tricolor. As per rules, a state funeral is accorded to the President, Prime Minister, a former President or a Governor. However, it is prerogative of the government to order a state funeral.
Even while the Chief Minister used his discretion in Sridevi’s case, fingers are pointed at this bizarre decision particularly because it amounts to trivializing the tricolor. Sridevi was neither a martyr nor a very great actress; by way of her contribution to Hindi cinema there is none because she was neither a game changer nor one who added anything to the silver screen. If anything, she put her personal life before work taking a long break to take care of her family. Therefore, to give her the honour of being draped in a tricolor is nothing short of blasphemy. It is a mockery of national sentiment and belittling of the tricolor that every Indian salutes, revers and worships. And any government that does this can and should never be forgiven.