In Tamil Nadu, if you dwell in cinema, politics cannot be too far away. Sridevi had her own political history as well. She hailed from a Congress family of Khamma Naidus settled in the Sivakasi-Kovilpatti belt of Ramanathapuram district.
Her aunt V. Jayalakshmi was a three-time Congress MP from Sivakasi. Her father’s elder brother M. Ramaswamy was one of the few Janata Party MLAs elected in 1977, just after Emergency. Even Sridevi’s father, M. Aiyappan, who was a criminal lawyer in Chennai, was bitten by the election bug. In 1989 when the Congress contested the Assembly election on its own, challenging the DMK and the two AIADMK factions after MGR’s death, Aiyappan was fielded from Sivakasi.
Facing a tough DMK candidate, former speaker P. Srinivasan (who had defeated K. Kamaraj in 1967), Aiyappan had to draft his star daughter to campaign for him. “Since she was the undisputed number one heroine of Tamil cinema then, she drew large crowds when she campaigned for her father for two days. But star campaigners do not always win elections and the DMK candidate managed to win due to the split in the anti-DMK votes,” recalled K.S. Radhakrishnan, DMK spokesperson and a relative of Sridevi.
Then there was Justice V. Ramaswamy (the HC judge who faced impeachment in Parliament in 1991), Sridevi’s sister, Srilatha’s father-in-law, who contested the 1999 Lok Sabha elections as the AIADMK candidate from Sivakasi. He lost to MDMK leader Vaiko. But in 1991, Ramaswamy’s son Sanjay had managed to win the Assembly elections on a Congress ticket before defecting to AIADMK midway.
With the family tree laden with politicos, Sridevi would have been a natural choice for Tamil Nadu’s long list of actor turned politicians. However, she chose to turn towards the greener pastures of Bollywood to emerge as the country’s top female superstar. “She was too shy a person to be in politics, where you need loads of confidence and oratorical skills to make a mark. Even after she became a star, Sridevi preferred to be in her own quiet world, coming alive only in front of the cameras,” observed film producer Kalaipuli Dhanu.
For someone who had acted as a child artiste with MGR, Jayalalithaa and Sivaji Ganesan, all of whom became politicians, Sridevi will not be around to see how Rajnikanth and Kamalahaasan—with whom she had shared the most screen space in Tamil films—fare as politicians.