Two days back at the Indigo restaurant in Lokhandwala, Mumbai, I happened to see actress Sridevi Kapoor. She was, presumably, with family and this seemed to be a completely private and casual dinner out. I was just one of the many others seated at another table with a friend. The reason that I write this post is because I have been a fan of Sridevi’s stunning looks for more than 20 years. Her cinematic presence, her luscious glamour, her Indianness and voluptuous sex appeal that went from her first media nickname Thunder Thighs when she danced to Jumping Jack Jeetu's tunes in Himmatwalla to becoming a sophisticated Bollywood wife and muse of many a director and designer, was a journey I had watched over the years with fascination. My friends and I would often comment on the way she glowed after her marriage to producer-director Boney Kapoor. At film awards ceremonies where she is often called to hand over trophies, on Bollywood red carpets or the glimpses we get of her on the buoyant Page 3 till as as recently as Anil Ambani’s much publicized Bollywood party ten days back, she comes across as someone who understands how to handle the unfolding years and yet look glamorous and young without looking like a desperate aunty clinging to let go of her past.
But day before was the first time that I saw her in person. My dream shattered. Had my friend not pointed out, I would have never guessed that this was Sridevi, that stunner, the idol of lakhs of Indian cinefans like me who were crazy for her dropdead appeal in Lamhe, Chandini and Mr India! This lady at the table across us looked scooped out, shrunken, with deep, dark circles under her eyes. She was clearly without the slightest trace of makeup. Those eyebrows that I always found wonderfully arched complimenting her expressive big eyes, looked flat. She has obviously lost enormous amounts of weight and her face looks small, her body waif like, her hair, without the intervention of a hairstylist was neither wavy nor straight. I was shocked. Not because she looked like any ordinary woman in a printed shirt tucked into smart blue jeans, having a quiet dinner but because I realized how I had created and hung on to (perhaps like many other fans), an image of hers in my mind that actually did her injustice. That lady who gives away film awards in lacy, sexy, chiffon saris and smiles that terrific smile is just a photograph in our heads, a creation of great makeup, and surely a lot of input on her part on how to present herself. No stylist, no makeup artist with his pots, pans and false eyelashes can give any woman or man a new identity unless that person herself does not know how what to do with the transformation.
I have worked with the fashion industry long enough to know the magic of makeup. Yet, Sridevi’s real looks left me deeply ponderous. No, she doesn’t look like a desperate aunty. Far from it. She looked composed and well-mannered. Plain and ordinary too. What could be wrong with that? I came away chiding myself for so vapidly judging her for her looks on screen and in photographs and for forgetting to be a fan of her talent. Most women in their late forties would look like her in any case. Dark circles are a function of age, they do not tell us about someone’s heart or mind or the fact that they have a life beyond makeup. Sridevi’s acting and dancing talent and the fact that she was one of the most popular performers of her time who would light up the screen does not change with the way she looks now without makeup. It is time people like me took off the rose tinted glasses through which we confuse made-up glamour with real presence.
Sridevi, I would still look out for you and clap when you walk the red carpet or give away the next trophy. But I will clap for who you are instead of mistakenly clapping only for what I realize now is terrific makeup.